I’ve never read anything by Washington Irving but The Legend of Sleepy Hollow appears in an anthology of classic ghost stories I bought for my Kindle a few years ago and Halloween seemed like the perfect time of year to read it. I thought I already knew the story from the 1999 Tim Burton film but of course it turns out that it’s only very loosely based on Irving’s original work, which is often the case with adaptations. It’s also not very scary, so if horror stories make you nervous, don’t worry – this one isn’t likely to give you nightmares!
Irving begins by describing the valley of Sleepy Hollow, an old Dutch settlement in New York State steeped in legend and superstition.
A drowsy, dreamy influence seems to hang over the land, and to pervade the very atmosphere…Certain it is, the place still continues under the sway of some witching power, that holds a spell over the minds of the good people, causing them to walk in a continual reverie. They are given to all kinds of marvellous beliefs, are subject to trances and visions, and frequently see strange sights, and hear music and voices in the air.
The most famous of Sleepy Hollow’s legends involves a ghost known as the Headless Horseman, said to be a Hessian soldier who lost his head in battle and goes on a nightly ride through the Hollow in search of his missing head. When Ichabod Crane, an outsider from Connecticut arrives in the valley to take up the position of schoolmaster, he is fascinated by this story. A believer in witchcraft, Ichabod is naturally superstitious and enjoys listening to the tales of local ghosts and goblins.
Soon Ichabod sets his sights on the beautiful Katrina Van Tassel, daughter and only heir of a wealthy farmer. However, he faces stiff competition for Katrina’s hand in marriage in the form of Brom Bones, a ‘burly, roaring, roystering blade…the hero of the country round’. After being rejected by Katrina during a party at the Van Tassels’ home one night, the disappointed Ichabod rides off alone into the night – only to find that he is being pursued by a mysterious figure on horseback…
There’s not much more I can say about this story without spoiling it. It’s a short one, so if you want to read it for yourself it shouldn’t take up too much of your time. Published in 1820, it’s easy to read and to follow and although Irving’s descriptive writing provides a lot of Gothic atmosphere, it’s a fun and entertaining ghost story rather than a terrifying one. It also has a wonderfully ambiguous ending!
I’ll have to read more of Washington Irving’s stories at some point. The only other one I’m familiar with is Rip Van Winkle, but obviously he has written a lot more than that!
This is my seventh and final read for R.I.P. XVII
12 thoughts on “The Legend of Sleepy Hollow by Washington Irving”
Irving was always a familiar name to me but like you I’ve never read anything by him. Hmm, I think I may have an old secondhand hardback collection of his short stories somewhere…
Based on how well written and enjoyable this one was, I’m looking forward to reading more of them at some point.
Nice Halloween post.
I’m glad you liked it 🙂
Here’s another author I’d never thought of reading. You’ve changed my mind!
It never occurred to me to read him until I was looking for something short and suitable for Halloween!
I had no idea that he wrote this one. I know him from his descriptions of Christmas – a far cry from Sleepy Hollow! He wrote some short pieces in The Sketch Book, one of which describes an old-fashioned English Christmas. Apparently he was a strong influence in creating the American idealised Christmas, rather like Dickens here. Clearly he was very versatile!
I didn’t know about his connection with Christmas. That’s interesting – thanks! He’s obviously an author I need to explore more thoroughly.
Very appropriate for Halloween!
Yes, I thought so!
I enjoyed this one too but of course never got around to reading anything else he wrote! I’ll see if you can tempt me if you review anything else… 😀
I’m definitely planning to read more of his stories eventually, but who knows when that will be!