Monday, September 5, 2011

THE LEGEND OF SLEEPY HOLLOW: a wee book review

     It's been a long time since I first read this. It was one of the first free Kindle downloads I selected. When I was a kid, I remember my dad reading this short story out loud to my friends and me on Halloween night, and he would smoke his pipe with cherry-flavored tobacco and blow smoke rings.
     As an adult, this story fell pretty flat for me, but maybe that's because my dad is several states away, and I couldn't smell that tobacco or watch the smoke rings.
     SPOILER ALERT!!!
     I had totally forgotten, or maybe just somehow missed it as a kid, that Irving makes it pretty clear that the Headless Horseman is most likely just Brom Bones playing a prank on Ichabod. And even mentions rumors in Sleepy Hollow that the former schoolmaster is later seen in other cities, having moved on, probably from shame.
     What a letdown!
I was way more scared by the Headless Horseman episode of Scooby Doo than by Irving's short story.

     The "legend" doesn't even have the ghostly horseman wearing or carrying a jack-o-lantern in place of a head. The legend is that the horseman carries his own head with him. It describes Ichabod's one encounter with the "horseman," where the horseman throws his "head" at Ichabod. But the next morning, it turns out not to be a head, but a PUMPKIN found smashed at the scene.
     Before that, the author describes Brom Bones as being quite the prankster, and how he and his pals are always pulling pranks on people. It also sets up the rivalry between Brom and Ichabod for Katrina's affections.
     So it's pretty obvious that it was really just Brom with a pumpkin, which in the dark of night the terrified Ichabod thought was a human head.  :(
     If I remember correctly, I think in both the old Disney animated version and the Johnny Depp movie, there's a SECOND encounter with the Horseman, in which it's obviously a real specter. Now I'm dying to watch the old animated one again, which I haven't seen in ages.
There's that Scooby Doo Horseman! SO SCARY!!!

     Another bone I have to pick with the original story is that Ichabod isn't even likable. He's kind of an opportunist and a lech. He's a total pig when there's food around, which is described in supposedly humorous detail. But I just found him kind of gross. In those days the tradition in small villages was that the schoolmaster didn't have a permanent home, and the village folk would take turns putting him up for the night and feeding him. I guess in exchange for him teaching their stupid country bumpkin kids. So Ichabod is basically a freeloader.
     The mood of the story didn't seem eerie or ghostly to me, it seemed more like a piece of slightly weird Americana. Mostly weird because of how "sleepy" the people in Sleepy Hollow are, and how they walk around as if in a supernatural daze, or something. But they're all happy and content. Where's the terrifying ghoul on the black horse with the flaming jack-o-lantern head? The concept of that is so awesome, I feel like Irving squandered a great idea.
     I almost never say this, but in this case I think the movies (both of them) are better than the original story!

P.S.- That last statement does not include the Scooby Doo TV episode. Although it was pretty cool at the time.

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