Happy first day of fall! In celebration of the change in the air and the start of turning leaves, here’s a very autumn-y pick of the week:
THE LEGEND OF SLEEPY HOLLOW
by Washington Irving
Background: First published in 1820, this famous short story is one of the earliest pieces of American fiction that is still read today. It was based on a German folktale and has been adapted numerous times in film, television, and stage. There is something very iconic about the Headless Horseman riding through the night…
What it’s about: Ichabod Crane is a superstitious schoolmaster competing with Abraham “Brom Bones” Van Brunt, who enjoys playing pranks on him, for the young and lovely Katrina Van Tassel. One one autumn night, Crane is pursued by the Headless Horseman of legend, who is supposedly a ghost from the Revolutionary War.
Afterwards, Ichabod Crane disappears, leaving Katrina stuck with the boneheaded Brom, and the mystery of the Headless Horseman unsolved.
Why it will keep you up at night: The image of the Headless Horseman has stuck around so long for a reason: the idea of getting chased by a decapitated man on horseback is creepy and sinister. While the story may not have the same horrific bite and immediacy that today’s readers expect, it instead pursues a slow build-up of character and setting. Through Irving’s beautiful descriptions, we get a good sense of who Ichabod is, the dreamy and ghost-like nature of Sleepy Hollow, and a distinctly festive feeling of fall.
Here are some of my favorite selections from the story:
Sleepy Hollow is a dreamy place of ghosts and legends: “However wide awake they may have been before they entered that sleepy region, they are sure, in a little time, to inhale the witching influence of the air, and begin to grow imaginative—to dream dreams, and see apparitions.”
As autumn falls upon the town… “The forests had put on their sober brown and yellow, while some trees of the tenderer kind had been nipped by the frosts into brilliant dyes of orange, purple, and scarlet.“
And finally Ichabod rides into the night alone, head filled with terrible images, where he meets the Headless Horseman: “All the stories of ghosts and goblins that he had heard in the afternoon, now came crowding upon his recollection. The night grew darker and darker; the stars seemed to sink deeper in the sky, and driving clouds occasionally hid them from his sight.“
And if you’re looking for more Halloween-oriented reading material, why not check out Zombos’ Closet of Horror’s interview with me about my favorite holiday?