The Legend of Sleepy Hollow

The Legend of Sleepy Hollow, by Washington Irving

This story has such a cultural impact, I was surprised as to how short and funny The Legend of Sleepy Hollow actually was. This story has directly lead to my belief that all covered bridges are haunted, and that New England might be the spookiest place on the planet (no offence if you live in New England - it is GORGEOUS over there). These beliefs are so deep-seated that last year, when I was vacationing not even in New England but in nearby southern Ontario, I was thoroughly creeped out. It was just before harvest time, and I realized then that everything we love about autumn comes from that part of the world, with the leaves and the pumpkins and the cornucopia of harvest foods. And also that anything connected with the American revolution and also pilgrims makes my skin crawl. The Legend of Sleepy Hollow and also maybe Fear Street contribute to it.

Is it the Disney effect? My first introduction to Irving's story is the Disney short, where Ichabod Crane is a hapless yet not unsympathetic stork-man, just trying to make his way home after a party. And when I watched this as a youngster I genuinely found it frightening. So while reading this I expected to be frightened a little bit - but in fact I laughed out loud. There was no murderous Hessian but really just a twerp getting what he deserved - a good scare.

For me, the absolute funniest part of the story is that I got the sense that Irving wrote Sleepy Hollow when he was very very hungry. The descriptions of food were legendary:

"On all sides he beheld vast store of apples - some hanging in oppressing opulence on the trees, some gathered into baskets and barrels for the market ... farther on he beheld great fields of Indian corn, with its golden ears peeping from their leafy coverts and holding out the promise of cakes and hasty pudding; and the yellow pumpkins lying beneath them, turning up their fair round bellies to the sun, and giving ample prospects of the most luxurious of pies ..."

And this goes on for pages! There is an entire page just dedicated to cakes! I kind of love this. Don't read while hungry.

Really, the reason why the story is ridiculous and not pathetic is because the reader believes Ichabod gets what he deserves. The plot revolves around the suit of Miss Katrina Van Tassel, a very pretty, very wealthy heiress, whose father's estate is vast and ample. Crane decides to throw his impoverished hat into the ring and Katrina's most powerful suitors takes offence. But as a reader you don't really feel sorry for Crane, because at the heart of it he is a pig. He just wants and wants. Katrina is pretty, yes, but mainly he wants her estate, and dreams of her working to cook up all kinds of glorious foods for him.

"... as he beheld [the buckwheat-fields and beehive] soft anticipation stole over his mind of dainty slapjacks, well buttered and garnished with honey or treacle by the delicate little dimpled hand of Katrina Van Tassel."

Crane grossed me out, greedy glutton that he is, especially because he didn't have anything to offer in exchange for all of this treasure, other than his own pretension. And listen, while a pretty girl with a fortune might question if she is ever wanted just for herself, at least you get the sense that Brom Bones knows how to take care of a girl proper, you know?

Brom Bones is the other suitor vying for Katrina's hand in marriage, and I will admit to having a crush on him. He is 100% the inspiration for Gaston in Beauty and the Beast, right? I know I'm not wrong about this, he was Gaston, I'm sure of it.

I'm in a Disney frame of mood, obviously, because this is all reminding me of when I took my tiny kids to Disneyland Paris with my sister, also a Disney lover. We stayed in a themed hotel, the Cars one because at the time my three-year-old was obsessed with Lightning McQueen. While we were out and about, this is a true conversation my sister and I had:

Me: Who's your favourite Disney character?

Sister: Li Shang, from Mulan.

Me: Ah, yeah, I like him.

Sister: Yours?

Me: Gaston.

[long pause]

Me: What kind of themed hotel should we be in?

Sister: I dunno. Disney boyfriends?

Me: What does this say about us as people?

There are no answers, really. I love Gaston so much. We watched a "Disney Villains" show while there, and after the fact the character actors were milling about with the audience and I got all flushed and stammery when Gaston was nearby. He is so handsome; I am one of the blonde bimbos. I'm not even ashamed about this anymore. Have you read the incredible post by Dana Schwartz Why Belle Should Have Chosen Gaston? It is a must read. Hahaha, the Beast is a lazy trust-funder, bourgeois pig. Seriously, this make my life. [Wipes tear away.]

Back to Sleepy Hollow. Just like Gaston, Brom Bones is a catch, and the rightful winner of Katrina's hand. He might just want her estate too, maybe he is also kind of a pig, but guess what? There's food on the table. These are important details in the 18th century. Everything about the conclusion made me happy.

I have to conclude this post on a more serious note, because I think it is important to point out that as with many older works of literature, there is almost always a component of problematic racism and sexism. In this case, Irving's depictions of black Americans is stomach-turning. Of course you can try to say that it was normal in the time to think that way, but that does not make it okay.

So keeping in mind there are problematic passages in the story, it is actually a quite light-hearted and descriptive story that I enjoyed, all the more so because it allowed me to indulge in thinking about Gaston all day.