October Review: The Legend of Sleepy Hollow

by Colleen White

New England in the fall is a magical place; nights grow crisp, tables are filled with tasty fall treats, and the hills are blanketed with vibrant shades of orange, scarlet, and gold.

No one captures the sights and feelings of autumn than Washington Irving, the granddaddy of American literature, and for that reason, he makes my list of Halloween must-reads. Coming in at just under 12,000 words, The Legend of Sleepy Hollow is more short story than even a novella, making it the perfect option for a quick read on a cold October night.

legend-of-sleepy-hollowNow even I, a person who still has nightmares from a 5th grade reading of Scary Stories to Tell in the Dark, have to admit that Sleepy Hollow can hardly be considered a scary book. Rather, the charm of the story comes from Irving’s use of language and storytelling to transport you to the time of Ichabod Crane, our cowardly protagonist.

Irving’s use of descriptive language – a “small brook murmuring” or the “drowsy, dreamy influence that hangs over the land” – all serve to envelop the reader into a world where fact and legend blend with indistinct boundaries. In fact, Sleepy Hollow is best read aloud in the style you would use to tell a ghost story around a campfire.

The language is absolutely beautiful (and often quite funny) and Irving’s writing lends itself perfectly to a talented orator.

Despite being written in 1820 (and referencing a time even earlier), modern readers will find a lot in common with Irving’s early America. Fall festivals, jealous rivals, and fumbled flirting are all situations any college student can relate to.

And the food. My god, the descriptions of food in this story are worth a blog post of their own. Roasted chickens, salted beef, “such heaped-up platters of cakes and crullers of various kinds”. If Irving loved food half so well as he wrote about it, I’m sure we would have been the best of friends.

If nothing else, Sleepy Hollow taps into an enduring human trait. Like Ichabod Crane, we all love to scare ourselves, just a little bit, with “long stories about ghosts and apparitions, mourning cries and wailings.” That’s what makes Halloween so fun.

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