Title: The Legend of Sleepy Hollow
Author: Washington Irving
Publication date: 1820
Genre: Short story; speculative fiction
Set in 1790, the story revolves around Sleepy Hollow, a secluded glen in the countryside near New York. Legends abound regarding the ghosts and spirits that are said to haunt its byways, in particular the spectre of the Headless Horseman, who is often seen riding out at night.
Itinerant schoolmaster Ichabod Crane comes to live and work in Sleepy Hollow – his superstitious nature finding much of interest in the many myths and legends – and sets his eye on local beauty Katrina Van Tassel, only daughter of a wealthy farmer. Ichabod’s rival in love (and fortune) is Brom Bones, who regularly plays pranks on the schoolmaster in an attempt to see him off.
One night, after a party at the Van Tassels’, Ichabod is rejected by Katrina. As he makes his dejected way home, he is surprised by none other than the Headless Horseman, who first chases him and then throws his severed head at him.
The next morning Ichabod is nowhere to be seen, and, along with his horse, saddle and hat, the only relic of the night’s adventure is a shattered pumpkin…
Where did I get hold of the book?
Yet again I resorted to the internet. However, for a change, I decided not to obtain this on Kindle, but went to the Project Gutenberg website, where I was able to view the entire text for free on a web page.
- Find the book in a library near you.
- Support local independent bookshops by buying the book from Hive (UK).
What did I learn from it?
I learned – or was reminded – that short stories can be a welcome change from full-length novels! Not just because I’ve been hammering the classics this summer and am craving an easy read or two; but because short stories have a charm all of their own. Their brevity means that they have to employ very different techniques to get their message across – and yet the thoughts and feelings inspired stay in the mind no less after a short story than after a 1000-page opus.
I also learned that The Legend of Sleepy Hollow is not, technically, a ghost story, as it is implied at the very end that there is a distinctly non-spiritual explanation for Ichabod’s terrifying experience. However, as the tale plays on the fears and superstitions of those who do believe in ghost stories, I think it still deserves its place in the canon of classic supernatural fiction.
How did it make me see the world differently?
At first I was disappointed with the ‘unhappy ending’, as the ‘hero’ seemed to have ‘lost’ to his antagonist: when Ichabod vanishes (or is driven from?) from Sleepy Hollow, the way is left clear for Brom to marry Katrina. However, we are then given an update of what is believed to have happened to Ichabod afterwards, and he is said to have had a successful career in the law and politics – which he may well have been better suited to than matrimony.
So I guess, for me, the moral of the story might be that even if we don’t achieve what we think we want, that may just mean there is something better out there waiting for us. This is certainly a message I can get behind: my own tendency, when I hit an obstacle that appears unmovable, is not to fight it but to try and find another way round.
In other words, if you can be persistent and determined even in the face of the greatest provocation, there need be no limit to what you can achieve.
What changes will I make to my life as a result of it?
Other than taking on board the above message about persistence (which I can never hear too often), the main impulse this story has left with me is, again, a creative one. I’m aware that there is a TV show entitled Sleepy Hollow, which I believe is a modern reimagining of Irving’s original tale; and this has inspired me in two ways:
- I’m going to see if I can catch up with the series from its beginning (it’s now in its third season). I do love a good supernatural show; and I enjoy watching different versions of familiar stories, to see what aspects are pushed centre stage, and what changes are made and for what reason.
- I’ve been fired up with renewed enthusiasm for writing some more adaptations of my own. I recently co-wrote a theatrical version of Pride and Prejudice, and found the process of adapting a classic novel for the stage absolutely fascinating. There are several more stories that I’d like to look at ‘converting’ into different formats, and reading The Legend of Sleepy Hollow may just have been the kick I needed to get cracking on another one.
Over to you…
Has this post inspired you to read the book for yourself?
If you’ve read it, do you agree with what I’ve said? Did you have insights that I’ve not mentioned?
Please share in the comments below!