Sleepy Hollow Memories
by Maria, The Serpentine Library
Halloween has never been high on my list of favorite holidays. If I were to make a pro/con list for Halloween, the candy and getting to pick out costumes go in the pro column, but beyond that it would be a series of checks in the cons column: that’s how it would have gone, until fifth grade.
Fifth grade was the year we started going on field trips to Historic Hudson Valley sites, like Washington Irving’s Sunnyside, and our teacher read The Legend of Sleepy Hollow to the class. It was a toned down version to be heard by our “young” ears of course, but it struck a chord, especially hearing so many familiar town names in the story and because the reading came in the weeks leading up to Halloween, in my mind the two became synonymous with each other.
Based on a German folktale, Washington Irving’s The Legend of Sleepy Hollow was set in post-Revolutionary War New York, no too far from New York City. Ichabod Crane arrives in Sleepy Hollow to take over the post of town schoolmaster. Katrina Van Tassel is one of his students and Mr. Crane finds himself taken in by her flirtatious nature. After meeting her father and seeing how wealthy the Van Tassel’s were, Mr. Crane tries to woo Katrina, despite the fact that several other suitors have tried and failed. Mr. Crane also becomes fascinated by the tale of the Headless Horseman, a Hessian soldier who lost his head during the Revolutionary War; he is often seen riding past the old church where, it is said, he is looking for his head.
Coming home from a party at the Van Tassel’s, Mr. Crane sees a large figure on a black horse on the path ahead and realizes that it does not have a head. The rider starts following Mr. Crane, who wants nothing to do with him. Mr. Crane and the rider end up by the church, with Mr. Crane trying to get over the bridge, where the horseman will disappear. Looking back to see if the horseman disappear, Mr. Crane sees that the horseman has thrown his detached head directly at him. Mr. Crane is thrown off his horse. The next morning the horse returns to the house with no sign of Mr. Crane. A search party finds hoof prints and Mr. Crane’s hat, with a smashed pumpkin next to it. Mr. Crane is never heard from again.
Well, after hearing all of that, the fifth graders could be found playing “headless horseman” and other games related to the story. But, then came the best part (in my opinion); we actually got to watch The Legend of Sleepy Hollow. The Disney version of course, but still scary, at least to a fifth grader.
In high school, I was very much into reading short stories, so I read a collection of Washington Irving’s collected short stories that included The Legend of Sleepy Hollow. I wasn’t disappointed; I actually liked the original even better than what I remembered from fifth grade. And even though I don’t really like reading things that are scary, it had just enough of that creepy, but not too scary feeling that had me hooked. So, since then it has become a yearly tradition to read some Washington Irving and The Legend of Sleepy Hollow right before Halloween.
Sleepy Hollow is also the perfect book to movie (or “reels and reads”) selection, because there are so many different choices to go with on the movie end. My favorite movie is Tim Burton’s Sleep Hollow.
Even though Burton was very liberal and loose in his retelling, he changed Ichabod Crane from a schoolmaster into a police constable sent to investigate 3 murders in Sleepy Hollow, I really liked the feel of this movie. It is just creepy and mysterious enough that you can overlook some of the plot changes, and who can resist Johnny Depp?
Want something a little more contemporary? The Hollow trilogy by Jessica Verday (The Hollow, The Haunted, and The Hidden) was inspired by The Legend of Sleepy Hollow, you’ll find traces of the story woven into the trilogy. And while it’s not a retelling, the way Verday uses Sleepy Hollow, the town, the cemetery and the story, was very interesting.
Of course, if I need a Sleepy Hollow fix at any other time during the year, a trip to the Sleepy Hollow Cemetery to visit Washington Irving’s grave will do the trick.
Thank you for participating in Halloween Hootenanny Maria! I think that this classic story holds a place in many people's hearts but maybe more so for those of lucky residents of the Hudson Valley area!
If you aren't a follower on Maria's blog, The Serpentine Library, what are you waiting for? Maria brings all sorts of books to my attention that I would not have heard of otherwise.