So, to get in the Halloween spirit, I’ve decided to rummage through some of the classics.
And I was all busy rummaging through said classics, when I stumbled upon Washington Irving’s The Legend of Sleepy Hollow.
Although it was one of those stories that everybody kind of knows, I didn’t actually read it until I was in high school. Actually, I’m pretty sure that one of my earliest introductions to the story was via Nickelodeon. (Raise your hand if you remember Special Delivery) On weekends they used to show anime-esque cartoons of fairy tales and classics. One of which happened to be The Legend of Sleepy Hollow. I’m pretty sure that’s why I always have a cartoon version of Ichabod Crane in my head instead of Johnny Depp.
Although, to be fair, after rereading the story, the character of Ichobod really is kind of cartoonish.
The story takes place in early New England, post-Revolutionary War. And the thing that most stuck with me from when I read the story in high school, is that “Dutch” is really a corruption of “Deutch,” and so the community base that Irving’s story is set around are actually German descendants.
Irving does a great job of layering several stories in one. The story is first given as being
“Found among the papers of the late Diedrich Knickerbocker.”
And from that, we take the unknown Mr. Knickerbocker to be our narrator.
Next we hear Mr. Knickerbocker relay the scenic beauty of the local countryside, and a nearby village called Sleepy Hollow. Sleepy Hollow is also known for its multitude of superstitions, charms, and ghosts—One in particular, being that of the Headless Horseman, believed to be the ghost of a Hessian soldier. The story being that the soldier had been on a ride when his head was shot off by a cannon-ball. Various stories allow for the Headless Horseman to be out riding every night either towards a long-forgotten battle, or in search of his head, as long as he’s back to the church cemetery by sunrise. And while he does seem to have a wide area to roam, the church bridge seems to be beyond his limits.
And the final layer; enter Ichabod Crane. Ichabod is the local schoolmaster, who becomes besotted with the lovely Katrina Van Tassel. Actually, it’s difficult to tell if Ichabod is really in love with Katrina, or if, more likely he’s in love with the idea of inheriting the Van Tassel estate. For that matter, it’s hard to tell if Katrina is really interested in Ichabod, or if she’s just using the schoolteacher to make Brom Van Brunt jealous.
Does Katrina spurn Ichabod? Is he being chased by the Headless Horseman? Or a jealous suiter???? Is Ichabod dead?—His soul haunting the old schoolhouse? Or was Ichabod so embarrassed that he left town and moved to New York (without a word to anyone, a horse, or his meager possessions)???
No one really knows. When Ichabod’s horse returned riderless, a search party was sent out, and found two sets of furious hoof prints leading up to the church bridge, with a pumpkin lying next to Ichabod’s hat on the other side. Ichabod’s body was never found (unless you count the guy who claims to have run into Ichabod in New York, years later).
Irving’s short story is full of local color and lore, along with a fast paced dash to the end. It seems to be both part caricature and part commentary of the times, but also a fun and engaging story.
Perfect for getting in the Halloween spirit (before it gets you!!!!!)!!!!