Review: The Legend of Sleepy Hollow by Washington Irving

I’ve read “The Legend of Sleepy Hollow” by Washington Irving before, but David, Amber and I were talking about the headless horseman one day and they were both convinced it had been a real ghost and had killed poor Ichabod. And I’ll grant you that image from the Disney movie does stick in your mind. So, I decided October would be the perfect time to sit down and read the story with her.

It’s the story of a schoolmaster, Ichabod Crane, who is courting one of the local lasses, a pretty girl who is a bit of a flirt. His rival, Brom Bones, is one of those rough, mischievous young men who, whenever there’s trouble in the area, all the neighbors and smile and say it must have been Brom Bones and his friends.

I love the descriptions of the area and the locals. It really sets the stage for the story.

They are given to all kinds of marvelous beliefs, are subject to trances and visions, and frequesntly see strange sights and hear music and voices in  the air. The whole neighborhood abounds with local tales, haunted spots, and twilight superstitions; stars shoot and meteors glare oftener across the valley than in any other part of the country, and the nightmare, with her whole ninefold, seems to make it the favorite scene of her gambols.

The dominant spirit however that haunts this enchanted region, and seems to be commander-in-chief of all the powers of the air, is the apparition of a figure on horseback without a head.

Crane listen to  all the stories, absorbed, delighting in the chills they send down his spine. The story ends, as we know, with Crane fleeing down the road on an old horse, pursued by “The Headless Horseman,” but maybe it wasn’t a ghost after all. While the whole story has touches of the creepy and ghostly, it’s not really scary, at least I didn’t find it so. It’s atmospheric and I can picture how Crane, after hearing the stories would feel nervous at every little sound when walking home in the evening. It’s a good Halloween story, but not one that will keep you awake at night.

It’s actually a little difficult to read. It was written in the 1820s and feels like it. It’s slow-moving and has a lot of words that have fallen out of common usage. There were a fair number of stops to explain what words meant and to make sure she was following the story. I personally think it’s a good to be exposed to different styles and eras of writing, to be comfortable with modern novels, but also not intimidated by those written hundreds of years ago.

I am glad that I read this short classic with her, and I’m pretty sure my husband was listening in for the most part. The writing is lovely and descriptive and it’s a glimpse at a different time. I love the bits of humor. The story can be read on-line at Project Gutenberg, but I’d recommending picking up or borrowing a version from the library with illustrations.

4 out of 5 stars

There are a bunch of versions available on Amazon: paperback, hardcovers, and e-books.

First published 1820

Book source: Library

This was my sixth short story for R.I.P. VII, a reading event embracing the ghastly and ghostly, mysterious and grim. R.I.P. VII is hosted by Carl at Stainless Steel Droppings.

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10 Comments

  1. I don’t know if it was the Disney version or not, but I saw an animated version of this as a kid and it scared the crap out of me. I was absolutely certain that anytime I walked from my grandparent’s house back home after dark (a whole two houses away and across the street), the headless horseman was going to come galloping down the hill to claim a new head…mine! This, in the middle of the city!

    Into middle age now, I’m over that. *cough* But the story remains one of those classics that I haven’t read yet. Very cool that you read it with your youngster.

  2. I was thinking that I should read this around this time of year, too! I’ve not read it, but I do think it’s one of those books that has been somewhat ruined by reinterpretations and people’s vague ideas of it. Similar to Frankenstein, which people often think is the monster’s name, not the creator’s name. Would be good to go back to the source!

  3. I’ve only seen the movie – the one with Johnny Depp. So, the movie is nothing like the book then?

    I must read the book, I’ve been meaning to for a long time, and it is on my Classics Club book list, but somehow always other books get in the way 🙂

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