Saturday, October 26, 2013

Legend of Sleepy Hollow

By Jeri Westerson

I can't pass through October without watching Disney's The Legend of Sleepy Hollow at least once, their take on Washington Irving's short story. You can't beat Buh-Buh-Bing Crosby's narration and singing in this very much of its time classic from 1949. My favorite song from it is, of course, the story Brom Bones tells at the Van Tassel's harvest party about the Headless Horseman with the tagline, "You can't reason with a headless man." Superb! And then of course the chase to the covered bridge!

I read this story many years ago now. The story was published in 1820, but is set in 1790 when the country was new. Set in the mythical town of Sleepy Hollow near the Dutch settlement of Tarry Town, New York, the stage is set for a creepy tale with the town's own legend. The Headless Horseman is supposed to be the ghost of a Hessian soldier who got his head blown off by a cannonball. But is this a real legend or is it trumped up by Brom Bones to scare off his rival the school teacher Ichabod Crane? In any case, Ichabod is trying to propose to Katrina, the only child of
the wealthy farm owner Baltus Van Tassel, but he is scuttled. That night, riding home from the party, Ichabod encounter the Headless Horseman and the next day his horse is discovered wandering and his hat lies next to a shattered pumpkin by the bridge. But Ichabod is nowhere to be found. Did Ichabod have a ghostly encounter with the Horseman and get whisked away as the women of the town think, or was it Brom Bones in disguise harrying the schoolmaster and scaring him out of town...or worse? Katrina ends up marrying Brom Bones who is said "to look exceedingly knowing whenever the story of Ichabod was related". The "Legend", it turns out, is not about the Headless Horseman, but about Ichabod's encounter with him.

Though thought of as a strictly American tale, it has its roots in European tales of the supernatural, of a ghostly chase, and even a headless horseman. German ghost stories seemed fond of featuring headless horsemen of varying kinds, usually a "huntsman" riding about the countryside dispatching those of loose morals. Even J.K. Rowling alludes to this in one of her Harry Potter books when the ghost Nearly Headless Nick bemoans the fact that he cannot join the headless hunt (he's not headless enough). Irving was in Europe at the time he wrote The Sketch Book, a group of short stories in which "The Legend of Sleepy Hollow" was included.

I know the story and cartoon influenced my childhood and the things I liked to read. It's a very moody piece. It's still influencing me now. In fact, my new urban fantasy series, THE BOOKE OF THE HIDDEN, is based in a small New England town with ghostly things happening. Oh yes. And I set it in the fall.

The Horseman and Sleepy Hollow have even returned in a new television series, "Sleepy Hollow," with an Ichabod Crane awoken after 250 years to try to stop the end times (the Headless Horseman being one of the Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse, apparently) with the help of a modern female sheriff. That Ichabod is worth fighting over! (See the picture above)

And then there was the ill-fated movie version with Johnny Depp. The less said about that the better. 

Here is a link to the Disney cartoon with the song "You Can't Reason With A Headless Man" where Brom Bones relates the story of the Headless Horseman.

And here's the end of the chase. Happy Halloween!


Steven M. Moore said...

Hi Jeri,
My 8th grade English teacher (aka the dean of my JHS) read Sleepy Hollow to us in his deep, baritone voice. Until then, I had rebelled and successfully ignored "the classics," except for pubescent attractions like Fanny Hill and Tom Jones! That one spine-tingling, nape-hair-raising reading sent me on a mind-blowing voyage of exploration, reading Poe, Conan Doyle, Haggard, and other less-known authors who leave modern paranormal and horror writers in the dust, even King and Koontz.
Thanks for the memories!

Jeri Westerson said...

Wow, Steven. A testimonial if ever there was one.

Cynthia said...

Great post, Jeri!

Can remember watching Sleepy Hollow on a FILMSTRIP in elementary school, ha!

Kind of enjoy the Johnny Depp version (except for the Ichabod Crane backstory and happy ending part). It's very gothic!

And I love the way Irving caricatures the schoolmaster so completely...

Jeri Westerson said...

Oh, yes. I remember filmstrips, and the little recording that went with it. The beep to tell you when to turn to the next picture. High tech!

Suzanne said...

They've been filming a version of "Sleepy Hollow" at Tryon Palace in North Carolina.

Joyce Lavene said...

Love this!