— But you will be ready to say, what was your hope in doing this? — What did you look forward to? — To any thing, every thing — to time, chance, circumstances, slow effects, sudden bursts, perserverance and weariness ... Every possibility of good was before me, and the first of blessings secured ... — from Emma, by Jane Austen (1775-1817)
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October 31, 2010

R.I.P. V: In nightly quest of his head...





But all these were nothing to the tales of ghosts and apparitions that succeeded. The neighborhood is rich in legendary treasures of the kind. Local tales and superstitions thrive best in these sheltered long-settled retreats, but are trampled under foot by the shifting throng that forms the population of most of our country places. Besides, there is no encouragement for ghosts in most of our villages, for they have scarcely had time to finish their first nap, and turn themselves in their graves, before their surviving friends have travelled away from the neighborhood, so that when they turn out at night to walk their rounds, they have no acquaintance left to call upon. This is perhaps the reason why we so seldom hear of ghosts except in out long-established Dutch communities.
The immediate cause, however, of the prevalence of supernatural stories in these parts, was doubtless owing to the vicinity of Sleepy Hollow. There was a contagion in the very air that blew from that haunted region…Many dismal tales were told about funeral trains, and mourning cries, and wailings heard and seen about the great tree where the unfortunate Major Andre was taken, and which stood in the neighborhood. Some mention was made also of the woman in white, that haunted the dark glen at Raven Rock, and was often heard to shriek on winter nights before a storm, having perished there in the snow. The chief part of the stories, however, turned upon the favorite spectre of Sleepy Hollow, the headless horseman, who had been heard several times of late, patrolling the country, and, it was said, tethered his horse nightly among the graves in the church-yard.

It’s so funny, after growing up with stories like ‘Rip Van Winkle’ and ‘The Legend of Sleepy Hollow, to realize that you’ve never read them (at least not in the original). I read something similar about Jane Austen (maybe in Jane’s Fame?) — that there are many, many people who love her books, but when pressed, have to admit that they’ve never read any of them.

I wanted to read at least one more ghost story for the Readers Imbibing Peril (R.I.P.) challenge, and I was inspired by new-New Yorker Rachel of Book Snob to look for Washington Irving’s ‘The Legend of Sleepy Hollow.’ Maybe I knew this long ago, when I was studying American literature in high school and college, but it’s not a novel, but a longish short story included in his second work, The Sketch Book.

The schoolmaster, Ichabod Crane, who is drawn so wonderfully, is ‘an odd mixture of small shrewdness and simple credulity.’ As he mooches off the townspeople to support himself, he sings psalms ‘to ward off the small fears’ and visits ‘the old Dutch wives’ to hear and tell stories about haunting and witches, frightening himself for his walk home.

… yet daylight put an end to all these evils; and he would have passed a pleasant life of it, in despite of the devil and all his works, if his path had not been crossed by a being that causes more perplexity to mortal man that ghosts, goblins and the whole race of witches put together, and that was — a woman.
Please read this story, or if you've forgotten what happens, read it again. 'What passed at this interview, I will not pretend to say, for in fact I do not know,' and I wouldn't want to spoil it for you if I did.  It's only about 25 pages long, and it’s delightful. There’s romantic views of the Tappan Zee and ‘this peaceful spot,’ and nostalgia for earlier times, and lots of food. And, of course, there’s a very satisfying, pulse-pounding ghostly encounter…or is there?


{Photo of the Old Dutch Church of Sleepy Hollow
from The Museum of Washington Irving}
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2 comments:

bookssnob said...

It is funny how you think you know a story so well and then are surprised by reading it and finding it not what you expected, isn't it? I found Sleepy Hollow very different to what I thought the story was about, but still enjoyed it nonetheless. I'm glad I inspired you to give it a go - I hope you manage to make it to visit the graveyard one day!

Coffee and a Book Chick said...

You know, if I think about it, I really can't recall reading The Legend of Sleepy Hollow at all -- I don't know if maybe I read it as a kid and I don't remember it? I need to pick this up, and it's only 25 pages! I can download it to my iPhone! :)

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