Washington Irving's "The Legend of Sleepy Hollow" is one of my favorite short stories. It's only one story of a larger collection found in The Legend of Sleepy Hollow and Other Stories or, The Sketch Book of Geoffrey Crayon, Gent. According to the introduction, "Washington Irving is believed by many to have created the genre of short story in America, mixing superstition and history, the European tradition of fairy tales and folktales, and local Indian legends. The often humorous and ironic tone in these stories, which is the familiar form of legend, is woven into a tapestry with the very real corporeal world." Irving's story is wonderfully descriptive and atmospheric. The perfect story to read when there is a chill in the air, fallen leaves beneath your feet and Halloween just around the corner. I'm glad that I saved it for last in my short story reads for Carl's RIP Challenge, as today is just the perfect day--overcast, cool, and leaves swirling about. I'm only too happy to be snuggled up under a blanket reading about poor Ichabod Crane and his misadventures.
Although I don't recollect ever having read the story when I was young (have since read it as an adult however several years ago), it is one of those fables that seems to be told to every school child at some point in their education. The story is set in a Dutch settlement in New York state called Sleepy Hollow. Surely everyone has heard of the Headless Horseman who lost his head to a cannonball in the Revolutionary War and haunts Sleepy Hollow? Priggish school master, Ichabod Crane, teaches the school children in this tiny glen, where ghost stories and tall tales are ubiquitous.
"Another of his sources of fearful pleasure was, to pass long winter evenings with the old Dutch wives, as they sat spinning by the fire, with a row of apples roasting and spluttering along the hearth, and listen to their marvellous tales of ghosts and goblins, and haunted fields, and haunted brooks, and haunted bridges, and haunted houses, and particularly of the headless horseman, or galloping Hessian of the Hollow, as they sometimes called him."
He falls for the lovely Katrina Van Tassel, a wealthy farmer's daughter. I wasn't sure which attracted him more--Katrina's beauty, or the bounteous farm she would inherit (his stomach seemed to know no depths). His rival for her affections, Brom Bones, is "the hero of the country round, which rang with his feats of strength and hardihood". When Ichabod disappears near the bridge to the Old Dutch Church after a dance at Van Tassel's farm, where the Headless Horseman is known to make his nightly run, it's uncertain just who he met. The morning after only Ichabod's horse, Gunpowder, is found without its bridle and the remains of a smashed pumpkin on the road at the entrance to the bridge.
I found the descriptions of Ichabod highly amusing. For those who have read Don Quixote you might see a few things in common between Ichabod and the famous knight. Here he is contemplating how to woo the fair Katrina.
"From the moment Ichabod laid his eyes upon these regions of delight, the peace of his mind was at an end, and his only study was how to gain the affections of the peerless daughter of Van Tassel. In this enterprise, however, he had more real difficulties than generally fell to the lot of a knight-errant of yore, who seldom had anything but giants, enchanters, fiery dragons, and such like easily conquered adversaries, to contend with and had to make his way merely through gates of iron and brass, and walls of adamant to the castle keep, where the lady of his heart was confined; all which he achieved as easily as a man would carve his way to the centre of a Christmas pie; and then the lady gave him her hand as a matter of course. Ichabod, on the contrary, had to win his way to the heart of a country coquette, beset with a labyrinth of whims and caprices, which were forever presenting new difficulties and impediments; and he had to encounter a host of fearful adversaries of real flesh and blood, the numerous rustic admirers, who beset every portal to her heart, keeping a watchful and angry eye upon each other, but ready to fly out in the common cause against any new competitor."
This is an absolutely wonderful short story. It sounds as though it is an imaginative creation based on a few local occurrences, and I read that "it is among the earliest American fiction still read today". You can read the story online here. And click on over to Book Snob as Rachel recently visited Sleepy Hollow and has shared photos of the sleepy little town. You can just imagine the peace being broken on a crisp, dark night as a galloping black horse rockets down the road--head in hand.
Other stories read for the RIP Challenge: Miriam by Truman Capote, Sophy Mason Comes Back by E.M. Delafield, Sloane Square by Pamela Hansford Johnson, Voices in the Coal Bin by Mary Higgins Clark and Computer Séance by Ruth Rendell, Reality or Delusion by Mrs. Henry Wood, and The Lady's Maid's Bell by Edith Wharton, Doctor Hood by Stephen Gallagher, and The Tower by Marghanita Laski. I also read Agatha Christie's Endless Night but will write about it sometime later this week. Many thanks to Carl for once again arranging the RIP Challenge.