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Short story reviews: The Legend of Sleepy Hollow, by Washington Irving
by Radhamani Sarma
The short story of The Legend of Sleepy Hollow was written by Washington Irving (17831859,) while he was in England. Popularly acclaimed by the critics as the Father of American Literature, Irving sets the story of Sleepy Hollow in the city of New York.
The story is full of superstition, belief in the ancient tales of goblins and the enchanted people’s time spent in the rehearsal of those stories which kept the Inhabitants spellbound. The hall mark of the story is that the narration, keeps the tempo going , prompting the readers ask the questions next, next , what? The tale revolves around the naive American school teacher Ichabod Crane, who takes a liking for Katrina van Tassel, only daughter of an affluent farmer. This courtship is rivalled and thwarted by another rustic admirer Brom Van Brunte and ultimately, the disappointed school teacher , having been insulted by his lady love , on the way back home encounters a ghost, the Headless horseman. More than the superstitious tale, the belief, the fears, the weird atmosphere around , that influence the people, housewives, and our simple, school teacher is no exception. The mysterious disappearance, the school teacher is thwarted, that sparks much curiosity and concoction among the neighbours. In between -are the vivid charm of description, the minute narrative details, the interwoven fictitious images, the limpid and transparent approach that add to the superstition and prominent faith in the prevailing Headless Horseman in the ‘ woody dell dovetailed in mellifluous prose ,- absolutely charming indeed.
The short story can be better understood , if divided into major three parts, the Minute details abounding in the Sleepy Hollow, the personalities involved, the school teacher gentleman in contrast with Brom van brunt, Katrina Van Tassels , the 18 year Old blooming lass” and finally the horrors involving the weird superstation about The Headless Horseman.
The Legend of The Sleepy Hollow , begins with an admirable sketch of vivid Portrayal of the land and the people and in the first person.
‘In the bosom of one of those spacious coves which indent the eastern shore of the Hudson, at that broad expansion of the river denominated by the ancient Dutch navigators the Tappan Zee, and where they always prudently shortened sail and implored the protection of St. Nicholas when they crossed, there lies a small market town or rural port, which by some is called Greensburgh, but which is more generally and properly known by the name of Tarry Town. This name was given, we are told, in former days, by the good housewives of the adjacent country, from the inveterate propensity of their husbands to linger about the village tavern on market days”.
Not quite away from the village is the valley known for its ‘ Sabbath stillness”.
Irving proudly states thus:
‘If ever I should wish for a retreat whither I might steal from the world and its distractions, and dream quietly away the remnant of a troubled life, I know of none more promising than this little valley.”
The Sleepy Hollow is under a magic spell, the people believe in Trances and visions and voices something analogous to that of St. Joan of Arc’s mystic experiences. There is a ghost , headless, haunting the surroundings, on horseback. One Hessian Trooper whose head has been carried off in the Revolutionary War and the ghost has been wandering around during nights in search of its head.
In this serene spot lives the lanky school teacher from Connecticut, Ichabod crane, a ‘ conscientious man,” who believed in the adage ‘spare the rod, spoil the child, and earned a meagre income , He is described thus,
‘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.”
The school building was constructed of logs or wood, a simple abode
by the brook , and Crane would play with the boys in the evening.
‘He found favor in the eyes of the mothers by petting the children, particularly the youngest; and like the lion bold, which whilom so magnanimously the lamb did hold, he would sit with a child on one knee, and rock a cradle with his foot for whole hours together.”
The quoted passages bespeak of the writer’s felicity of expression and mellifluous language. The apt similes bring home the desired meaning so effectively . ‘This capacious swallow” enjoyed all the tales, stories and anecdotes of superstition too.
‘Another of his sources of fearful pleasure was to pass long winter evenings with the old Dutch wives, as they sat spinning by the fire, with a row of apples roasting and spluttering along the hearth, and listen to their marvellous tales of ghosts and goblins, and haunted fields, and haunted brooks, and haunted bridges, and haunted houses, and particularly of the headless horseman, or Galloping Hessian of the Hollow, as they sometimes
In the design of the headless horseman , there is fantasy, history, Make belief superstition which played on the emotional Susceptibility of the folks in the surroundings. It is this charm which keeps the tale going.
It was when he fell for his musical disciple Katrina van, the Beautiful blooming lass of the affluent farmer in the village, he encountered his rival who was having an eye on KATRINA , Brom Bones by whom often insulted and his school was the butt of ridicule and assault.
‘ From his Herculean frame and great powers of limb he had received the nickname of BROM BONES, by which he was universally known. He was famed for great knowledge and skill in horsemanship, being as dexterous on horseback as a Tartar. He was foremost at all races and cock fights; and, with the ascendancy which bodily strength always acquires in rustic life, was the umpire in all disputes, setting his hat on one side, and giving his decisions with an air and tone that admitted of no gainsay or appeal. He was always ready for either a fight or a frolic; but had more mischief than ill-will in his composition; ‘
The story takes a drastic turn , when Katrina who reciprocated the amorous advances made by the school master, turned him down in her own house;on the way back the infuriated , humiliated Crane, chanced this headless , ghost or figure whatever you call him by.
‘There was something in the moody and dogged silence of this pertinacious companion that was mysterious and appalling. It was soon fearfully accounted for. 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! but his horror was still more increased on observing that the head, which should have rested on his shoulders, was carried before him on the pommel of his saddle! His terror rose to desperation; he rained a shower of kicks and blows upon Gunpowder, hoping by a sudden movement to give his companion the slip; but the spectre started full jump with him. Away, then, they dashed through thick and thin; stones flying and sparks flashing at every bound. Ichabod’s flimsy garments fluttered in the air, as he stretched his long lank body away over his horse’s head, -‘.
After a hectic almost in an unyielding effort he fought the Goblin which was equally ferocious but in vain.
‘It encountered his cranium with a tremendous crash, -he was tumbled headlong into the dust, and Gunpowder, the black steed, and the goblin rider, passed by like a whirlwind. his flight.”
The intermittent extensive quotes are but essential without which, The present writer of the article opines, the analysis is rendered ineffectual . The legend Of Sleepy Hollow , thus goes down in history as a remarkable story of superstition, a tale amidst tales.