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The Legend of Sleepy Hollow

Term Definition
The Legend of Sleepy Hollow

"The Legend of Sleepy Hollow" is a short story of speculative fiction by American author Washington Irving, contained in his collection of 34 essays and short stories entitled The Sketch Book of Geoffrey Crayon, Gent.

Though Irving was American, he wrote “The Legend of Sleepy Hollow” while he was living in Birmingham, England in the year 1820. The story is one of the oldest examples of American fiction with persistent popularity, particularly around Halloween. The story takes place in 1790 in a Dutch colony in New York called Sleepy Hollow. The town is haunted by many specters but none as threatening as the Headless Horseman. Ichabod Crane is a superstitious school teacher who competes for the hand of Katrina, the daughter of a rich farmer. One night, he encounters the Headless Horseman, who gives chase. Ichabod thinks he has bested the ghost when it suddenly appears beside him and hurls its decapitated head into his face. Ichabod is never seen again.

Greed and supernatural themes in The Legend of Sleepy Hollow

A major theme present in “The Legend of Sleepy Hollow” is greed. Katrina, for example, loves the attention she gets while men quarrel over her. She does not seem to care much about either of them and only for their public displays of love and devotion. It can be said that she is greedy for power over these men’s hearts. Ichabod himself is rather greedy as well. He wants everything and is unafraid to show it. At times, his greed is exaggerated to the point of absurdity. 

Another major theme of “The Legend of Sleepy Hollow” is the presence of the supernatural. The entire town of Sleepy Hollow is said to be haunted by various ghosts and spirits. Some townspeople say that the land was bewitched, while others say it was cursed by a Native American chief who lived there before the settlers took over. As for the Horseman, was it simple Ichabod’s main competitor for Katrina’s hand, or was it truly a ghost with sinister intentions?

Notoriety and film adaptations

“The Legend of Sleepy Hollow” was the longest story published in the collection, called The Sketch Book for short. Along with the story of “Rip Can Winkle”, “The Legend of Sleepy Hollow” is one of Washington Irving’s most adapted, anthologized, and studied works of all time. The two stories are often found together in different books, collections, and other representations. In addition, both are often included in examinations of romanticism and early American literature. Irving employs vivid portrayals of regional culture and focuses on the plight of the outsider, the idea of tradition versus progress, and paranormal intervention. This has helped to develop a distinctive look at the existential and cultural sense of self felt by man of the early 1800s. 

“The Legend of Sleepy Hollow” has been adapted for television and film many times. The first was called The Headless Horseman and was a silent film released in 1922. It stared the famous Will Rogers as Ichabod Crane and was directed by Edward Venturini. 

One of the most well-known adaptions of “The Legend of Sleepy Hollow” is The Adventures of Ichabod and Mr. Toad. This animated series debuted in 1949 and was directed by Jack Kinney, James Algar, and Clyde Geronimi and was narrated by Bing Crosby. The adaption is sort of a combination of “The Legend of Sleepy Hollow” and Grahame’s The Wind in the Willows. The story here is a bit more elaborate than the original tale, and leaves little room for belief that the horseman could be a man in disguise rather than a ghost. In later editions, the Sleepy Hollow portion is removed and instead shown as a separate companion film.

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