Saturday, April 19, 2014

I is for Irving

Totally unexpected, this one. I know all about the big screen adaptation by Tim Burton, but that movie takes a liberal shot at Washington Irving's novella, The Legend of Sleepy Hollow. Liberal, like 50%. When I think about it, all the movie had in common with Irving's material is the Headless Horseman and Ichabod Crane. And Burton just borrows the name of the latter. Because when you break it down, Johnny Depp's character doesn't share any similarities with the Ichabod Crane that Irving writes about.

All right, so we have Ichabod Crane, who is not a member of the judiciary but is merely a humble schoolteacher. So humble, so insecure, and so clumsy. And he's not really the hero of the story as it will turn out. By the end of the story, Ichabod Crane is just one more casualty. Was he a victim of the Headless Horseman? Or was he just an unfortunate character who's fallen prey to a prank by Brom Bones. Brom and Ichabod are both wooing the town beauty, Katrina Van Tassel. It's really not made clear though if Katrina has directly denied Ichabod her hand. All we know is that at the end of the party, Ichabod leaves with very low spirits.

What caught me off guard was how humorous the story can be. Somehow, we feel that Irving is making light of the people of Sleepy Hollow. He loves them, make no mistake. But it's as if he's inviting the reader to see that these are people who tell creepy stories to amuse themselves. I'm amused as well. I'm amused at the brilliant way that Irving shows us how a town's beliefs, its superstitions, can influence the lives of the locals. And that despite these superstitions, they make do.

It's no wonder that Irving's stories have stood the test of time. These are the kind of stories that you tell each other at the campfire. These are the stories that you share to your friends to creep them out. While the Headless Horseman doesn't really appear till the end of the story, there's a sense of pervading gloom right from page 1 of The Legend of Sleepy Hollow. By the end of the story, if you're not creeped out by what happens to Ichabod Crane, then at least it will give you pause to think whether the Headless Horseman is real or not.

Read this book if:
  1. You love short creepy stories.
  2. You've seen the movie, and now it's time to read the book.
  3. Headless Horseman! Headless Horseman! Is there really any other reason for reading this?

6 comments:

Jack said...

Jambo! Your alphabetical series has for the most part flown way over my head, but here at last is a classic that I loved from my first exposure in elementary school. I have always enjoyed this purely for the story, but you raise a lot of instructive points.

For me, it is the first story I can remember where the protagonist not only fails to achieve his goal, but comes out considerably worse off than he started. Very enlightening concept to be tucked away by the embryonic writer I was in the 50s.

Peter S. said...

Hello, Jack! I try to sneak in as much speculative fiction as I can in this reading challenge. (Now that's a challenge in itself, I think!) Otherwise, I'd die of melodrama from reading all those dead guys.

Kaz said...

I created myself a challenge - and mentioned you in dispatches... I'm enjoying your dead guys posts - might get back to a few of said dead guys myself at some point...it's WAY too long since I read any Hardy...although the pain of doing The Mayor of Casterbridge and Tess in high school is still quite vivid!

Peter S. said...

Hello, Kaz! I definitely want to read Tess and The Mayor of Casterbridge! I can't believe that I end up loving Hardy!

Ryan said...

I so want to read this at some point in time. I actually prefer the Disney version of the story over the Johnny Depp movie.

Peter S. said...

Ryan, it'll take you just 1 sitting to go through with this. It's so short!