The Legend of Sleepy Hollow
02/11/2009 § Leave a comment
I think that it is safe to say Sleepy Hollow thrives in the collective consciousness of most Americans. This is thanks to Disney, Tim Burton, and the Ghostbusters cartoon. We have all sorts of images associated with Ichabod Crane and that little town in the Northeast. The most powerful of any of those images is the headless horseman. I wonder how many people have actually read the story “found among the pages of Diedirch Knickerbocker”?
This story by Washington Irving was the first story I read aloud to Gemma. How or why we landed on Sleepy Hollow I don’t recall. I do remember reading it aloud to be an arduous affair because, on revisiting the original text, it proved to be an incredibly wordy piece of literature. Reading aloud run on sentence after run on sentence proved incredibly difficult for my then weak lungs. The median word count of every sentence must be close to fifty, which is totally fine as long as you don’t have to read aloud.
I bring up Sleepy Hollow not because it has been forgotten or people no longer consider Washington Irving an American Literary hero….they do don’t they? I bring him up because I think that America’s collective brain remembers the cartoon (which I like), Tim Burton’s disaster of a movie (which I don’t like), and not the original text.
The original text is admittedly labor intensive but it is classic in terms of mood. I would agree that it is kind of boring, but the best kind of boring, and Ichabod is kind of a fool and Brom Van Brunt is kind of a tool and Katrina Van Tassel is kind of typical but that is what makes it so great. It is just these regular cliche characters placed in the town of Sleepy Hollow, which is a great name to begin with.
Then, these three whatever-type characters are set amidst legends of Dutch settlers, Hessian Warriors, and Cotton Mather and his witch trials. The prose of the first three quarters evokes terror quietly and crawls under the readers skin so that when the horseman does appear the readers sense of despair is total. We know that Ichabod will not escape. And despite the tons-of-fun early 19th century prose we know we will have to read it again.