One of the most famous writers during the Romantic period was Washington Irving. He was one to tell such descriptive and exciting tales, who made the reader really imagine the scenes he described. He was also known for his use of satire in his stories, along with allowing his readers to depict the outcomes for themselves. He portrays these strategies in one of his most famous stories, “The Legend of Sleepy Hollow”.
This legendary tale is very different from the film that is popular today. First off, they start out in very different situations. In the tale, Ichabob Crane came to the town of Sleepy Hollow to instruct the children at the local school house. He is portrayed as a character who gets along well with the children and is loved by the townspeople. It was even said that, “His appearance was always greeted with satisfaction”. They immediately admired Ichabob. However, he also tended to have a big imagination and believed the many ghost stories told to him. He is described as, “having a kind of imagination of disaster, with his head crammed full of wonders of the invisible world as well as a plethora of other spook stories and superstitions” (Smith, Greg, 2001). This introduction of him sets the reader up for upcoming events. The movie, produced in 1999, portrays his character quite differently. He was called to the town of Sleepy Hollow to help solve the crime of the murders that were taking place. He was thought to be an ignorant city man, whom had a hard time achieving respect from the townspeople. He is quite stubborn in believing any of the legends of the town. In both, the movie and the story, Ichabob did have an infatuation for the young Katrina Van Tassel.
As the story goes on, in both the movie and the original tale, the legend of Sleepy Hollow is explained. The legend of the headless Hessian stays true in the movie. However, in the novel, the horseman has only been known to taunt people, not behead them as it is shown in the movie. In the story, Irving goes into much detail about the tales of the town. He not only describes the headless horseman, but gives the reader insight to the town’s superstitious beliefs and the enchantment this town seems to hold. He tells about the people as they come to Sleepy Hollow, “However, wide awake they may have been before they enter that sleepy region; they are sure in a little time, to inhale the witching influence of the air…” It is as if he is describing the place to be a “fairyland” and once you enter you will forever be “dreaming”. The movie only portrays this a small bit, in the sense that everyone whom lived in the town has always lived there, and they deeply believe in the headless horseman and witchcraft.
The antagonist in the movie was the headless horseman. The producer of the movie took the story to a different length than Irving meant it to be. The film bases the plot around the existence of the headless horseman and his nightly beheadings. However, the movie did keep to the idea that there was an underlying enemy. The known enemy was Katrina’s stepmother, who was putting spells to the horseman, directing him to the next victim. She had her ulterior motives of inheriting her husband’s money. Washington Irving, on the other hand, wrote his story that makes the reader wonder if the headless horseman ever did exist. For, the underlying enemy, Brom Van Brunt, was the “horseman” in disguise. He developed a dislike for Ichabob Crane, which played into the idea of the urban vs. rural. Or as one critic put it, “…each may be viewed as the well-spring for an American cultural archetype/stereotype–Ichabob for that of the city slicker, and Brom for that of the country bumpkin” (Belling, Samuel Irving,1994).Brom was a skilled man in all things rural, while Ichabob was from Connecticut and was ignorant to things, such as horseback riding. With the contrast created, Brom taunts Ichabob with petty tricks that induce him to think the horseman is real. This contributes to the uncertainty of the existence of the horseman. In the end, Ichabob is chased by the “headless horseman”, only then to never be seen again.
The endings of the movie and the original story also vary. The movie has the fairy tale ending, with Ichabob putting the Headless Hessian at rest and getting the girl he has admired, Katrina. The tale doesn’t create such an enchanted ending. In fact, the ending is unclear, but allows the reader to assume the outcome. After Ichabob is chased by the “horseman” he unknowingly disappears and no one sees of him again. There seems to be a big gap in the tale as to what happened, for after the description of him being chased, Irving only writes, ” Ichabob did not make an appearance at breakfast-dinner hour came but no Ichabob”. One critic describes this scene, “we are left with a tale stripped of the identity of its central character”(Anderson, Donald,2003).The main character had just vanished from his own story. The reader is then made to assume either he really was carried off by the Hessian, or he went back to his native home of Connecticut. At this point the reader is also unsure if the horseman was real or was it really Brom. Irving promotes to the later for he writes, ” Brom Bones…was observed to look exceedingly knowingly whenever the story of Ichabob was related, and always burst into a hearty laugh at the mention of the pumpkin. Which led some to suspect that he knew more about the matter than he chose to tell”. This implies that perhaps it was Brom who chased Ichabob away.
After reading both the original story of “Sleepy Hollow” by Washington Irving, and watching the contemporary movie, I have come to the conclusion that the movie’s idea of the tale was not exactly what Irving had in mind. His story is more of a children’s story, with hidden messages, satires, and humor intended for the older crowd. He wrote the story to be more of an exciting, inconclusive tale of the rival of 2 characters representing two worlds (Ichabob and Brom) , and of the mysterious spells that seem to have a hold on the natives of Sleepy Hollow. The movie, on the other hand, tends to drift away from these concepts and focuses on pleasing the older audience by incorporating an existent horseman whom beheads numerous townspeople. It completely dodges Washington Irving’s original intention of his marvelous tale. For, his story of “Sleepy Hollow” leaves the reader with much more to think about even after reading it. The story still plays in your mind as you try to figure out what Irving really intended to happen to the young Ichabob Crane.
Anderson, Donald. “Irving’s The Legend of Sleepy Hollow.” Explicator 2003. Marist College. Chesapeake College, Wye Mills, Md. 12 Jan. 2006.
Bellman, Samuel Irving. “Legend of Sleepy Hollow.” Reference Guide to American Literature 1994. Literature Resource Center. Thomson Gale. Chesapeake College, Wye Mills, Md. 12 Jan. 2006 .
Irving, Washington. The Legend of Sleepy Hollow. N.p.: Tor Books, 1991.
Smith, Greg. “Critical Discussion of Sleepy Hollow.” Midwast Quarterly 2001. Literature Online. ProQuest Information and Learning. Chesapeake Colloge, Wye Mills, Md. 12 Jan. 2006 .