Thursday, April 19, 2012

The Legend of Sleepy Hollow & other stories by Washington Irving

Publisher: Doubleday (1975)

Blurb on The Complete Tales of Washington Irving edited by Charles Neider from Washington Irving (1783–1859) was the first American literary artist to earn his living solely through his writings and the first to enjoy international acclaim. In addition to his long public service as a diplomat, Irving was amazingly prolific: His collected works fill forty volumes that encompass essays, history, travel writings, and multi-volume biographies of Columbus and Washington. But it is Irving’s mastery of suspense, characterization, tempo, and irony that transforms his fiction into virtuoso performances, earning him his reputation as the father of the American short story. Charles Neider has gathered all sixty-one of Irving's tales, originally scattered throughout his many collections of nonfiction essays and sketches, into one magnificent volume. Together, they reveal his wide range: besides the expected classics like "Rip Van Winkle," "The Spectre Bridegroom," "The Legend of Sleepy Hollow," and "The Devil and Tom Walker," his fiction embraces realistic tales, ghost stories, parodies, legends, fables, and satires. For those familiar only with secondhand retellings of Irving's most famous tales, this collection offers the opportunity to step inside Washington Irving's imagination and partake of its innumerable and timeless pleasures.

I read The Legend of Sleepy Hollow as part of the Once Upon a Time Challenge (category folktale) held over at Stainless Steel Droppings.

First off, this tale was quite a bit shorter than expected. Hence, I also read Rip Van Winkle and The Spectre Bridegroom. But let's start with The Legend of Sleepy Hollow. I have been meaning to read this story for some time, since the Johnny Depp movie came out. I have to say the work by Washington Irving differs greatly from the movie. Ichabod Crane is a school teacher! And yes, he occasionally gives a student a good whack. His life is somewhat nomadic, as he is put up a week at a time by the village folks. He helps out with odd chores here and there - in order to flirt with the ladies and also in the hopes of receiving a tasty treat. He is a man ruled, partially, by his stomach. Hence, he sets eyes upon the lovely Daughter Van Tassel, who is described as something of a flirt. He sees that the Van Tassel's have a well-stocked larder, a full table, and plenty of good land to keep growing excellent food. But Miss Van Tassel has a dedicated beau, Brom.

A rivalry between Brom and Ichabod crops up easily and each one tries to out do the other in their pursuits. They also turn to tricking in other out of their time with the lady. Quite frankly, I found myself routing for Brom. While we don't learn much about Brom, we do know that Ichabod is after Miss Van Tassel's hand more for her land and wealth and food than for herself. Laced throughout this tale is the folktale of the area about the headless horseman, a Hessian mercenary from the Revolutionary War. As we all know, this eventually comes into play as a prank played on Ichabod Crane. I have to agree with Brom that it is a rather good one.

I also read Rip Van Winkle, which takes place in about the same place as The Legend of Sleepy Hollow, near where Henrick Hudson made his base and started many of his explorations of north-eastern US. Rip Van Winkle is a dude's name. All these years, I thought it was a silly name for a goblin. Turns out it is a silly name for a man. A lazy man. Well, semi-lazy. Rip is one of those guys who will help out a neighbor or friend with any menial chore, no matter how onerous or smelly, but won't take care of his own property and things. He also has a wife who hen-pecks him constantly. I felt a little sorry for the guy.

So he and his dog Wolf had a habit of disappearing into the woods for some peace and quiet. One day, Rip comes across a group of rough-looking men in the woods playing nine-pins and drinking around a campfire. One man was dressed very finely: 'he wore a laced doublet, broad belt and hanger, high crowned hat and feather, red stockings, and high-heeled shoes, with roses in them'. Put anyone in high-heeled shoes and they become fashionable and much more desirable. You add roses to a man's outfit, and he is outright irresistible. Later on, we learn this is a prominent historical character of the area. Anyway, Rip is invited in and given something to drink and many hours later he falls asleep.

When he awakes, decades have passed. It takes him sometime to figure this out - his gun is rusted, his dog gone, he hardly recognizes anyone in town, George Washington is unknown to him, and his wife has passed on. Luckily, he left a child behind, giving the story a happy reunion ending.

In The Spectre Bridegroom, we have a tale of a betrothal left incomplete by the unexpected dying of the groom (young Count Von Altenburg). The young man charges his friend (Herman Von Starkenfaust) to carry word to his bride-to-be (daughter of Baron Von Landshort) so that she doesn't think he left her cold at the altar. But there is a complication - their families have been blood enemies for generations. But a death-bed promise is a promise of the heart. So Herman goes, with some trepidation, to the Von Landshorts. They are expecting the bridegroom anytime and when Herman is spotted, he is mistaken for young Von Altenburg.

Herman can't get a word in edgewise upon his arrival and is soon seated at the main table next to the bride-to-be and the feast is begun. He is entranced by her beauty and soon decides that he wishes to be the groom, but how to fulfill his dead friend's last request, not anger his future father-in-law and end up dead, and still get the girl? Well, lots of tales of the supernatural are told around the feast fire and they provide inspiration to the young man. Herman pretends to be a spectre of the dead bridegroom, acts oddly, and flees from the banquet.

Later, he returns to the gardens where his fair lady can see him. He proceeded to woo her and eventually, they elope. In returning to her father, they both beg pardon, which is given, and a happily-ever-after ensues. It was sweet.

Pluses: Lots of description of a long-since-settled early wild east-coast US; simple, good natured folktales with a moral point; true American tales and a bit of our history; lots of big vocabulary words.

Minuses: The ladies have very limited roles; the description of the countryside from one story to another can be interchanged with ease; pretty slow-paced.

1 comment:

  1. Oh my days!  I loved reading this review.  I read Rip Van Winkle years ago - with my love of sleep I actually think he's a long lost relative of mine!
    But, Sleepy Hollow - it's a great story, plus I love the names - Ichabod - how brilliant is that?  It's worth reading a book when it's got such excellent imagination starting right away with the names of the characters!
    Lynn :D