Monday, October 24, 2011

The Legend of Sleepy Hollow

Another wonderful tale to add to this October collection is the short story by Washington Irving, "The Legend of Sleepy Hollow."  Yet again, this story has permeated popular culture, and we are all very familiar with terms like "The Headless Horseman," even if we don't know its source.  This story is well-known, full of great description, and a fun and easy read.

Irving first published "The Legend of Sleepy Hollow" in 1820.  Apparently, he did not invent the Headless Horseman but borrowed the character from German folklore.  Nevertheless, I do believe Irving is responsible for making it such a popular haunted figure, and the long, lean, awkward Ichabod Crane was certainly his own creation.  In a twist among "horror stories," the narrator does not present the story very seriously but maintains a sense of humor in the undertone of the text.  Rather than trying to convince readers to be terrified of Ichabod's fate, he instead hints at its incredulity.

I just love the narration of this story.  Similar to The Turn of the Screw, the characters in the story love to sit around and swap their best ghost stories.  (I have to wonder, does this happen anymore?  Where are these storytelling parties by the fireplace?  We know even Lord Byron and Mary Shelley did this in real life.  I would love to be a part of a ghost story competition.  Anyway, I digress...)  Once again, this is not a standard third-person narration in which the voice of the text is detached and omniscient.  Instead, the narrator offers an interesting perspective because he engages with the story enough to have visited Sleepy Hollow but not so intimately to consider himself one of the people.  With his detailed description and amusing commentary, he can convince us that his story is true, but we can almost see the twinkle in his eye as he doubts its supernatural implications.  Moreover, the story itself is said to be "found among the papers of Mr. Knickerbocker," who records the story but does not narrate except for a comment in the postscript.  Thus, the theme of multi-level narration in October stories continues.

As I said, the narration of the story is rich with description and amusing.  We do not need a movie to picture the skinny, long limbs of Ichabod spilling awkwardly around the old horse, as he rides gallantly to woo the pretty girl.  We can likewise smile to ourselves as we imagine this grasshopper-like man bounce energetically around the dance floor and sweep everyone away.  The narrator also offers funny commentary about men and women, and sets up the rivalry between Ichabod Crane and Brom Bones - such great names! - with the ironically silly comparison of combating knights.  Yet at the crux of the story, we can also feel Ichabod's panic as he encounters the terrors of the darkness, and we are left in suspense without truly knowing what happened.

In my opinion, this is a perfect story to read in the fall.  To avoid spoiling anything, I'll stick to these descriptions rather than focusing on the plot too much.  We are exposed to all the sensory joys of a crackling fire, a brisk autumn wind, crisp warm apples, and an enormous feast of seasonal food.  In fact, the narrator nearly collapses into himself as he details the myriad meats, fruits, cakes, and pies which are "all mingled higgedly-piggedly" in a grant feast.  As I drooled through the descriptions, I found myself eager for Thanksgiving and my own fair share of pumpkin pie and an excess of side dishes.

I don't want to spend much more time on this story because I want it to keep this post as light and fun as the story itself.  Truly, this should not be taken too seriously, and I would be remiss if I skipped the humor in an attempt to dig too deeply.  So if you like autumn-themed descriptions and famous old tales, take a few moments to read "The Legend of Sleepy Hollow" for yourself.  In fact, here's a convenient link for a full online version.  Now if only I had some pumpkin pie right now...


Becky (Page Turners) said...

You had me at similar to Turn of the Screw, love that book! I own the collection of short stories with this in it but havent reqd it yet, might read it when I get back from holidays

Amateur Reader (Tom) said...

That's just what surprised me, how good the descriptions were. Also, the pro-bullying pranks message. But mostly the descriptions.

Kate said...

Hey there! Just a quick note to let you know I linked this post over at Kate's Library in my "Friday Five". Have a great weekend! (A little late - I was behind!)

Anonymous said...

Amy, may I remind you that you HAVE sat around and told ghost stories? In fact, you did much more than tell them, you terrified three very unfortunate friends ;)

Amy said...

Becky, I don't want to get you too excited because the story is much different than James's classic. But I do think you'll like it!

Tom, "pro-bullying" sounds a bit extreme but I know what you're getting at. I'm glad you enjoyed the descriptions too! Did it make you hungry?

Kate, thanks so much for mentioning me in your blog!

Hannah, haha yes that is true. Maybe we do still tell ghost stories more than I recognized!