The Legend of Sleepy Hollow
© 1820 Washington Iriving; illustrations 1966, Leonard Fisher
Long ago in a quiet part of the north country near Hudson Bay lived a superstitious and gangly schoolteacher whose amorous affections for a local heiress threw him headlong into trouble. The man’s name? Ichabod Crane, and if that name sounds familar to you, so might the Tale of the Headless Horseman. Though I’ve been familar with Crane, the Horseman, and name “Sleepy Hollow” since childhood, I have never read the story. It’s a short story, a fantasy-horror tale with a comic main character in a barely independent America. While I initially peeked into the petite volume to learn where the tale went (ending in dread mystery), surely it was worth reading for the language alone. Irving’s prose is ornate, yet highly readable, like the rare piece of cursive writing that is rendered artfully without slowing down communication. The work has the added appeal of painting a picture of an America still very much wet behind the ears; America is still more a colony than a Nation, and the Dutch population of Sleepy Hollow have not yet been ironed out of existence by the forces of cultural homogenization. It is thus not only an elegantly-told short story perfect for occasions such as Halloween, but a charming piece of early Americana. Another example of such is the story of Rip Van Winkle, also laden with Dutch characters though much shorter. I trust the name and story are singularly familiar to most; the tale of a happy-go-lucky farmer who has a lie-down under a nap and wakes up twenty years later to find his wife dead, his country a republic, and his town burgeoning is also captivating.