Literature: The Legend of Sleepy Hollow
"On mounting a rising ground, which brought the figure of his fellow-traveller in relief against the sky, gigantic in height, and muffled in a cloak, Ichabod was horror-struck on perceiving that he was headless!""The Legend of Sleepy Hollow" (also known informally and somewhat incorrectly as "The Headless Horseman") is a short story by American author Washington Irving, first published in February 1820 as part of a series of stories later collected as The Sketch-book of Geoffrey Crayon, Gent. As with a number of Irving's stories, the plot is based on German legend (particularly in the re-told versions of Karl Musäus), transplanted to a New York state setting, and mingled with Irving's genial satire of human, and particularly American, foibles.The story has been subject to a great deal of adaptations since Irving's time. The "quilting frolick" of the original is often transferred to Halloween. In more than one adaptation it is strongly hinted that the Horseman is a genuine supernatural apparition.
Tropes associated with "The Legend of Sleepy Hollow" include:
- Alas, Poor Villain: Since later stories have been interpreting the Horseman as a real entity, Ichabod's unknown fate with it becomes a whole lot darker.
- The Alleged Steed: Gunpowder
- Anti-Hero: Ichabod himself. Despite displaying a number of positive traits, Irving focuses largely on his flaws; envy, avarice, gluttony, and sloth.
- Anti-Villain: Brom Bones is depicted as displaying all the qualities of a Great American Hero: bravery, recklessness, and square-jawed, good ol' boy charm. As such, even though the entire story (in one interpretation) hinges on the consequences of a prank he pulls, the reader never loses sympathy with him.
- The American Revolution: Concluded not very long before the opening of the story; the Horseman himself is supposed to have been one of the Hessian mercenaries who fought for the British.
- Ambiguous Situation: The ending deliberately leaves many things ambiguous. Was Ichabod killed by the Horseman or did he just flee from Sleepy Hollow and move somewhere else? Was the Horseman actually supernatural or was it just Brom trying to scare Ichabod off? It's up to the reader to decide and what answer they decide on completely changes the story.
- Big Eater: Ichabod
- Brains: Evil; Brawn: Good: Ichabod, the intellectual schoolmaster, is portrayed as weak-willed, venal and effeminate, while Brom Bones, the barrel-chested stallion-breaker, is portrayed as honorable, or at least more honorable than Ichabod. On the other hand, Ichabod is a deeply superstitious man, in contrast to the rational Bones, so in a sense, Brom is actually the smarter of the two.
- Cannot Cross Running Water: The ghost, it's said, always vanishes while crossing the bridge.
- Cool Horse: Both played straight, with Brom's black horse, Daredevil, and inverted, with Gunpowder, the broken-down hack Ichabod borrows from an irascible farmer.
- Defictionalization: North Tarrytown, N.Y., changed its name to Sleepy Hollow in 1996 to capitalize on this story and the tourist business it brings, especially around Halloween.
- Food Porn: Ichabod loves to eat, and much of the story focuses on his quasi-erotic imaginings regarding lovingly prepared food.
- Ghostly Goals: The Headless Horseman can't move on to the afterlife until he's found a head to replace his own.
- Green-Eyed Monster: Ichabod is described as having "large green glassy eyes", and as being envious of Baltus van Tassel's wealth.
- Headless Horseman: The Trope Codifier
- Hellish Horse
- Horror Struck: Averted, in that Ichabod fervently believes in all supernatural phenomena — even when (as it is strongly implied) the phenomena aren't supernatural. Later adaptations sometimes play the trope straight.
- Hot for Student: Ichabod gives Katrina psalmody lessons. She's eighteen, though.
- Jerkass: Ichabod gets less and less appealing as the story goes on, peaking when he thinks of how, once he's married Katrina and acquired her father's great wealth, he'll tell everyone he associated with as a schoolteacher to screw off.
- Literary Agent Hypothesis: The story purports to have originated at some four removes from Irving himself, as 1) Geoffrey Crayon's recounting of 2) the notes of American Dutch "historian" Diedrich Knickerbocker containing an account by 3) a poor and whimsical storyteller of 4) the legendary lore of the old Dutch wives of the New York colony.
- Lost in Imitation: Pretty much every interpretation after the original either has the Headless Horseman be truly supernatural (when the original strongly implies it was Brom Bones in disguise), Ichabod be slain by the Headless Horseman (in the original, it's declared he ran away from the Hollow and has taken to living elsewhere, though the locals prefer to ignore that news because him being carried away makes for "a better story"), or both.
- It doesn't help that for most readers the Headless Horseman is just too cool of a villain to be only a hoax. He's become one of the most famous horror icons. Come on, a cackling headless horseman who prowls the roads looking for heads? How is that not awesome?
- In some ways this suffers loss from people forgetting how it was originally published. Had you have read the entire Sketchbook you'd find this story is the third story to feature supernatural antics. Rip Van Winkle has the ghosts seem completly real and even swears to the tale. The Spectre Bridegroom is believed to be supernatural by most of the characters even though the reader knows the whole thing is a Scarecrow Solution. By the time you get to this tale, the idea that everything is not wrapped up is clearly done on purpose by Irving. Also debunking some claims the supernatural was never in Irving's attempts, but considering people have little memory of the sketchbook nor that Sleepy Hollow and Rip are connected and let alone there was a third one in there might not even be common among some English teachers lecturing on the subject,
- Maybe Magic, Maybe Mundane: The story hints at both a natural and a supernatural explanation for Crane's disappearance.
- Meaningful Name: "Ichabod" is traditionally translated as "Inglorious," while "Crane" hints at the schoolmaster's tall, thin frame and beaky nose."He was tall, but exceedingly lank, with narrow shoulders, long arms and legs, hands that dangled a mile out of his sleeves, feet that might have served for shovels, and his whole frame most loosely hung together. His head was small, and flat at top, with huge ears, large green glassy eyes, and a long snipe nose, so that it looked like a weather-cock perched upon his spindle neck to tell which way the wind blew. To see him striding along the profile of a hill on a windy day, with his clothes bagging and fluttering about him, one might have mistaken him for the genius of famine descending upon the earth, or some scarecrow eloped from a cornfield."
- Moody Mount: Ichabod's borrowed horse Gunpowder: "The animal he bestrode was a broken-down plow-horse, that had outlived almost everything but its viciousness."
- Never Found the Body
- Operation Jealousy: Katrina uses Ichabod to pull this on Brom.
- Our Ghosts Are Different: Besides the Horseman himself, references are made to ghostly funeral processions, a wailing woman in white, and the ghost of British spy Major John André.
- Purple Prose: Some modern readers may be put off by Irving's luxuriant descriptions, typical of the early nineteenth century, of the New York landscape, or the heaped-up delicacies of an old Dutch table, or the varied apparitions that haunt the Hollow.
- Rounded Character: Although his most-obvious trait is his greed, Ichabod is actually a rather multi-faceted character. Beyond his selfish ambitions, Ichabod is also superstitious, imaginative, has a (typically unhealthy) sense of curiosity, and even has some positive traits thrown in for good measure.
- Scarecrow Solution: Why Brom laughed whenever the pumpkin was mentioned.
- Scooby-Doo Hoax: Likely the Trope Maker.
- Shout-Out: Not only the usual literary allusions of the period, but especially to Irving's own fanciful Knickerbocker History of New York.
Adaptations based on "The Legend of Sleepy Hollow":
open/close all folders
Live Action Film
- A silent version of the story appeared as early as 1908 ; in 1912 Ichabod was played by Alec B. Francis.
- The best known silent version appeared in 1922: The Headless Horseman, directed by Edward Venturini, and starring Will Rogers as Ichabod Crane, filmed on location in New York's Hudson River Valley.
- Sleepy Hollow, perhaps the best known version in recent times, is a Tim Burton adaptation which deliberately takes considerable liberties with the original Story, making it radically Darker and Edgier. Johnny Depp's Constable Ichabod Crane is a much more heroic figure than Irving's gawkish, pedantic, cowardly schoolmaster, and rather than be cripplingly superstitious, he's a pioneer of forensic sciences who uses reason and deduction to solve crimes and insists that a live human is behind the Horseman murders. In fact, he's basically the only non-superstitious character in the film, at least during the earlier acts. There are also subtle themes of the complexity of religion, reason, and the supernatural woven throughout the film.
Live Action TV
- A made-for-TV movie version, The Legend of Sleepy Hollow was made in 1980, starring Jeff Goldblum as Ichabod Crane and Dick Butkus as Brom Bones. In this version Ichabod has become a disbelieving rationalist.
- The Tall Tales and Legends series, produced and hosted by Shelley Duvall, featured a "Legend of Sleepy Hollow" episode in 1987, starring Ed Begley, Jr. as Ichabod Crane, Beverly D'Angelo as Katrina Van Tassel, and Charles Durning as Doffue Van Tassel, the narrator.
- In 1992 Are You Afraid of the Dark? aired an episode entitled "The Tale of the Midnight Ride," in which a boy and girl save the ghost of Ichabod Crane from the Horseman. However, this caused the Horseman to chase them instead.
- Wishbone reenacted the role of Ichabod Crane in the episode "Halloween Hound: The Legend of Creepy Collars" in 1996.
- In 1999 another made-for-TV film, also entitled The Legend of Sleepy Hollow (AKA La légende de Sleepy Hollow), starring Brent Carver appeared; this was a Canadian effort filmed in Montreal.
- The Hollow (2004) was a TV movie, starring Kaley Cuoco as a teenage descendant of Ichabod Crane, that premiered on the ABC Family channel.
- In 2004 Charmed aired an episode entitled "The Legend of Sleepy Halliwell", in which a Headless Horseman is beheading the teachers at the Magic School.
- Fox's series Sleepy Hollow, in which the Headless Horseman is actually Death, one of the four Horsemen of the Apocalypse, and Ichabod is a Rip Van Winkle revived to stop him.
- Sleepy Hollow, a Broadway musical with music by George Lessner and book and lyrics by Russell Maloney and Miriam Battista was staged in 1948.
- In 2009 appeared The Legend of Sleepy Hollow, an opera, with music by William Withem and libretto by Melanie Helton.
- There's a Hidden Object game based on the story, released under the Mystery Legends name.
- In 1949 the story was paired with a pared-down version of Kenneth Grahame's The Wind in the Willows in Disney's The Adventures of Ichabod and Mr. Toad; the story is narrated (with interspersed songs) by Bing Crosby. It's actually surprisingly faithful to the original story (far more so than the very loose Wind in the Willows adaptation) — Brom Bones gets his Pet the Dog moments, Ichabod's fate is left still ambiguous, and the implication that the Horseman is fake is retained. The animation of the chase scene is particularly impressive, and influenced several later Disney films, notably Beauty and the Beast.
- In 1972 a short animated version appeared, narrated by John Carradine.
- In a 1976 episode of The Scooby-Doo / Dynomutt Hour called "The Headless Horseman of Halloween," Beth Crane, a descendant of the original Ichabod, is haunted by the Headless Horseman, who wants to gain the Crane Diamond.
- Similarly, in 1986 The Real Ghostbusters featured an episode, "The Headless Motorcyclist," with a descendant of Ichabod Crane cursed by a headless apparition (on a motorcycle, naturally) who chases her.
- The Headless Motorcyclist may have been cribbed from the Kolchak: The Night Stalker episode, "Chopper."
- In 1988, the ALF Tales cartoon featured an episode in which Ichabod "Gordon Shumway" Crane is a reporter assigned by his editor, Baltus Van Tassel, to cover the Headless Horseman story; he discovers a whole herd of Headless Horsemen.
- The Night of the Headless Horseman (1999) was an hour-long computer motion capture animated Fox TV special. This film went for one of the outright darkest In-Universe Alternative Character Interpretations by making Brom an actual villain; Brom deliberately makes a Deal with the Devil to be rid of Ichabod, though it's left unclear if the "dark spirits" send the original Headless Horseman to get Ichabod or merely encourage Brom to take the Horseman's guise and attack him. The film ends with Brom revealed as the tale-telling In-Universe narrator, as he explains that in order to pay back his "debt", he has to become the Headless Horseman himself.
- Filmations Ghostbusters included an episode where the Headless Horseman appeared. However, he wasn't really malicious and his heart only went into scaring people in the name of fun. He also wasn't headless.
- Not unlike a similar Casper comic, where the Horseman finally does meet up with his long-lost noggin, who's been going around as the "Horseless Headman".
- The Smurfs: The Legend Of Smurfy Hollow from Sony Pictures Animation.
- The New Misadventures of Ichabod Crane, a 1979 Canadian animated special animated by Titlecraft.