I read The Legend of Sleepy Hollow for the first time in 5th grade for a class assignment, and never revisited it again. However, my interest in the original tale was piqued when hubby and I took a trip to actual Sleepy Hollow, New York, for their Halloween festivities a few weeks ago. We saw a storyteller do the entire legend complete with props, costumes, and the original language. It was AWESOME, but I wondered while we were listening how much of the story was truncated for the performance.
After reading Irving’s tale, it was clear the storyteller had done a wonderful job of staying true to the story’s origins. He’d changed a few details for the performance, but most of it was Irving’s work verbatim. I was astounded at how many people were sitting expectantly in the Dutch historic church lacking in both electricity and heat, bending their ears to take in the archaic language and twisted sentences of Irving’s dated tale. The audience was fully enraptured for the entire two hours of the story time, even the children were silent and listening. While most of this attention rests completely on the shoulders of the storyteller’s talent, everyone in the audience was there to take part in the tradition of this old story. It was a unique experience in this digital and busy world, and as I sat also raptly listening, I got to thinking about craft and language, and why this particular short story has not only survived, but become an ingrained part of our spooky cultural landscape.
Revisiting this story at aged 33 with 2 degrees in English certainly changed my perspective on the way this book was crafted. At age 11, the language was difficult to decipher and I remember being confused and frustrated at Irving’s lengthy descriptions about the environment and Ichabod’s appearance. Where was the plot? Where was the action? As an adult, I found Irving’s sentences to be little masterpieces that I totally didn’t have the ability to appreciate as a young child. The action and plot take a backseat to the atmosphere, which, as in most ghost stories, is often more important than the action. The whole piece is atmospheric, as the reality of the headless horseman is only potentially real because of the environment in which he presents himself. Irving leaves it open to our interpretation to whether or not the horseman actually exists.
So why do we still read this? Of all of Irving’s stories, why is this one the one we come back to? I think because it’s still relatable. On some primal level, we’re all still afraid of things that go bump in the night. We’re afraid of noises we can’t place. We can relate to both Ichabod’s love of ghost stories and subsequent terror on his ride home in the dark. There’s also a sense of tradition to this story, an encapsulation of a bygone era that may or may not have been true, but nonetheless reads clear and vibrant on the page. Irving’s perfect details and masterful sentences capture the reader, transporting them along the chase with all the clues they need to decide for themselves whether or not Ichabod’s experiences were the work of ghosts.
4 stars for beautiful writing.
Bingo Square: Back to School
Bingo #6 (that I forgot) – 4 corners & middle – Remix, Reading the TBR, Own Voices, Cannonballer Says, Summer Read