The Legend Of Sleepy Hollow by Washington Irving, 1820
The magic trick:
Leaving the exact details of Ichabod’s ride of terror hazy and unsubstantiated
Happy Halloween, good friends of the SSMT website.
Today we have a treat for you. It’s only one of the most famous short stories in American literature. That’s right – the all-time ghost story: “The Legend Of Sleepy Hollow.”
So what makes it so good nearly 200 years later?
Lots and lots of things.
I’m going to hone in on the way Irving resists the temptation to control the ending. Instead of some trite conclusion where Ichabod gets the girl or discovers the headless horseman’s true identity, he shrouds the events in mystery. What really happened? We don’t know. The town doesn’t know.
It’s perfect. Not only does this kind of ending let the story’s spooky energy linger on, it also connects to the local legends that Ichabod so enjoyed reading earlier in the story. Now his own legend sits comfortably among the ghost stories of Sleepy Hollow. And that’s quite a trick on Irving’s part.
Such is the general purport of this legendary superstition, which has furnished materials for many a wild story in that region of shadows; and the spectre is known at all the country firesides, by the name of the Headless Horseman of Sleepy Hollow.
It is remarkable that the visionary propensity I have mentioned is not confined to the native inhabitants of the valley, but is unconsciously imbibed by every one who resides there for a time. However wide awake they may have been before they entered that sleepy region, they are sure, in a little time, to inhale the witching influence of the air, and begin to grow imaginative, to dream dreams, and see apparitions.
I mention this peaceful spot with all possible laud for it is in such little retired Dutch valleys, found here and there embosomed in the great State of New York, that population, manners, and customs remain fixed, while the great torrent of migration and improvement, which is making such incessant changes in other parts of this restless country, sweeps by them unobserved. They are like those little nooks of still water, which border a rapid stream, where we may see the straw and bubble riding quietly at anchor, or slowly revolving in their mimic harbor, undisturbed by the rush of the passing current. Though many years have elapsed since I trod the drowsy shades of Sleepy Hollow, yet I question whether I should not still find the same trees and the same families vegetating in its sheltered bosom.