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“Sandkings” is indeed a horror tale that sets itself apart from the conventional horror stories. Most horror tales, stories, and movies only thrive in their ability to scare the audience. The Sandkings is different in that in addition to providing the thrill of not knowing what is going to happen the next minute; it has a moral.
The novelette’s author succeeds in bringing out the moral through his use of the characters, and, in particular, the central character. Simon Kress, the protagonist of the story, becomes a demigod who has the power to control the actions of his subjects, the Sandkings. The Sandkings provide him with excitement and entertainment as they fight for the food he offers to them. Thus, the novelette revolves around Simon Kress and his four colonies of Sandkings (Ed’s Blog). He acquires them while looking for pets to replace his deceased animals. Once he purchases them, he gets the assurance that if he feeds them properly, they will provide him with sufficient entertainment. He fails to do that, and they end up battling each other for survival other than pets. He even invites his friends to share the delight while he mistreats his ‘pets’. The animals that have extraordinary abilities eventually manage to escape and run amok as they destroy their environment and everyone in their path. In the end, they kill the demigod and establish their rule (Martin).
The moral espoused in the novelette is that the narcissistic and selfish tendencies of the human kind exhibited in the preceding pages of the reading do not go unpunished. The evil person suffers a moral punishment that they deserve in an ironic and fatal manner. The Sandkings besiege the tyrant, Simon Kress in his house, and he is forced to flee for his safety. Thinking he had reached a haven in the desert, he comes face to face with the orange battalion that kills him. The themes of revenge and retribution for the meek and helpless stand out amidst all the horror surrounding this science fiction. The story is full of thrilling excitement as the author describes battle after battle and the suspense especially in the middle and later parts of the story. However, a keen reader cannot wait to see how this injustice will come to an end. It is scary yet fun, in the final scene, to see Simon Kress, the villain receiving punishment for his wrong behavior. The moral of the story outdoes the horror.
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It is true that most people are likely to be afraid of what they have encountered than what they have not. The scary stories people witness or hear about in particular places makes them afraid of those places. If an individual hears frightening stories of ghosts in a cemetery he or she has ever visited, the person is more likely to be afraid of that place than of some foreign land that has similar reputation. Martin manages to do the opposite.
He manages to scare and impress his readers placing unordinary things in an ordinary environment that they are used to. The Sandkings are not usual animals. Their first description at Wo and Shade’s pet shop is simplistic enough that one may dismiss them as mere insects. However, as Wo continues to explain their abilities, one cannot help but notice that there is something special about them. Although her description of their capacity to worship their owner is somehow awkward, it becomes clearer as one gets deeper into the story. The Sandkings’ behavior is similar to that of bees regarding their reverence of the maw (queen) but is very different in their means of communication and feeding. Thus, the writer approaches the reader with something familiar (like the general behavior of the Sandkings), however, at the same time, he arises curiosity, providing an out-of-the-world description of their supernatural intelligence. Such an explanation of the creatures’ behavior leaves one imagining that they have no place on this planet and hence no need of fearing them. They can be as domestic as other animals. In fact, they are meant to be pets just like dogs and cats, for example. Further, the author brings the reader to a familiar territory, where one would not expect terror from alien beings. Thus, the setting of the story is domestic and familiar while the actors are foreign and unfamiliar objects. The writer’s aim is to display horror in a familiar place using alien creatures, and it is the gist of the novelette. Martin uses this combination to bring out the horror in the story as well as its moral. The strange creature that is meant to be a pet shows its true nature in the home and carries out revenge in the same place.
Nothing in the story tells it better than its characters. Simon Kress is a pathetic narcissist who will stop at nothing to get the ultimate prize. He is extremely egoistic, and it is firstly revealed at the very beginning of the story. Intending to find a replacement for his dead animals, a hawk and Piranha (Elwin), he goes to the pet shop. Kress dismisses Wo when she first describes the Sandkings, but upon learning that they could worship him and provide him with entertainment, he grows excited and purchases them. He expects a certain behavior from them, and when this expectation goes unmet for a while, he starves them and thus coerces into aggressive behavior. Kress learns that they can fight after starvation, and it becomes his usual treatment contrary to advice received while purchasing the creatures. In another instance, he gets agitated after noticing that his face created by the creatures to worship him is not as he has expected. He does not like what he sees, and, in anger, he pokes his sword at one of the maws and injures it. What is more, his cruelty and selfishness reveal even more when he kills his ex-girlfriend, Cath, when she tries to destroy the tank with the Sandkings. Throughout the story, all his actions tend towards self-gratification irrespective of the effect on others.
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His actions and behavior remind those of tyrants, colonial and slave masters. These are people who are not concerned about the welfare of their subjects. The slave masters, for instance, were arrogant people who mistreated their slaves and mostly punished them for getting things done. The enslaved individuals, on the other hand, had to pay allegiance and do as the master wishes or face his wrath. They were nothing more than mere objects which achieve his goals. The slaves are comparable to the Sandkings. They both were confined and their roles limited to the gratification of the master. A failure to meet his demands results in dire consequences.
As a story, “Sandkings” can be interpreted in various ways including colonialism, slavery and even religion. However, the most potent outlook of the three aspects mentioned above is religion. The novelette’s structure resembles the organization of the different religions. Simon Kress is the all-powerful God to whom all the Sandkings pay their allegiance. He demands their worship, and their actions (fighting) are meant to appease and gratify him. The ‘maws’ are the religious leaders who exist in the ordinary world, for instance, the Pope, chief Kadhi, and others while the regular Sandkings entail religious followers.
The different factions are organized by color representing the various religious groupings. There are four categories into which their colors classify the Sandkings. The coloring also differentiates their separate housing. This categorization is a reflection of religious groupings. The Sandkings’ carved faces also depict the manner in which they worship the protagonist. They feel the ‘god’s’ mood using certain senses and carve his likeness into their structures. The other depiction of the religion is seen in the castles and maws. Each faction of the Sandkings has their home base or castle. There is a maw (spiritual leader) inside each hive that guides the actions of the followers and needs to eat to sustain the community. Each religious faction around the globe has a leader who is revered by the entire following. The most outstanding characteristic trait of religion in this novelette is faith (Meditations on A Song of Ice and Fire). The Sandkings live and thrive on faith in their maws and their ‘god’ for Providence. They rely on telepathic communication of the deity’s message from the maw. Religion is all about faith. The congregations believe in their religious leader as the link between the people and God, and that they try to communicate His message. Additionally, believers have faith that the sole provider is God. They, therefore, rely on Him for sustenance and Providence and follow His commands via religious leaders.