(Contains spoilers, but it’s a classic. You know how it ends anyway, right?)
I often attempt to read books in situ, although I can’t say that I’ve ever been especially successful. Perhaps because I choose books that are way too lengthy and ponderous to get through in the short amount of time I have at my disposal in a location. Proust for three days in France? Yeah, right. The Decameron over four days in Italy. Sure. The Glass Bead Game in three days in Germany? Ha! (I ended up reading this Perth, which isn’t quite the same.)
Anyway, the US is a long way to go to read Washington Irving’s The Legend of Sleepy Hollow, so I made do with what I had at my disposal: a dimly lit walking track and some windy Melbourne weather. To ensure that I wouldn’t have my head lopped off by some headless horseman or low-hanging branch during my travels, I opted for an audio version of the book, a choice version from Librivox featuring a Man With a Booming Voice, and whose intonation made me think rather of this:
Unfortunately, The Legend of Sleepy Hollow has forever been tainted in my mind by the fact that I saw a film adaptation before reading it–something that I wouldn’t ordinarily do, but hey, Johnny Depp. So I did spend a good deal of the hour-and-a-bit of the narrative feeling quite bemused that someone had managed to get an entire movie out of what is an exceptionally slight, and despite all the hushed murmurings about its spookiness, extraordinarily whimsical, tale.
Although I waited for sundown for my little jaunt into Tarry Town, it didn’t take me long to realise that Mr Irving was not really in this business of scaring his readers, but was rather having a good old joke of it all (I can’t remember if this was part of the film, because, hey, Johnny Depp). For there are so many moments of levity in this camp little thing. Take, for example this about Ichabod’s appetite:
“The revenue arising from his school was small, and would have been scarcely sufficient to furnish him with daily bread, for he was a huge feeder, and, though lank, had the dilating powers of an anaconda…”
Or this description of Brom Van Brunt’s (yes, best name ever) impassioned clawings: ”his amorous toyings were something like the gentle caresses and endearments of a bear…”
The whole thing is really a single joke ghost story, and it’s really quite hilarious, particularly when it’s read in a ponderous, Nimoy-esque tone. I mean, check out the conclusion:
“Just then he saw the goblin rising in his stirrups, and in the very act of hurling his head at him. Ichabod endeavored to dodge the horrible missile, but too late.” (Italics mine for added hilarity)
I admit it, I laughed. Out loud, in public, on the walking track, and eliciting a few stares from sternly power-marching lycra-clad forty-somethings.
But then, it gets better!
“In one part of the road leading to the church was found the saddle trampled in the dirt; the tracks of horses’ hoofs deeply dented in the road, and evidently at furious speed, were traced to the bridge, beyond which, on the bank of a broad part of the brook, where the water ran deep and black, was found the hat of the unfortunate Ichabod, and close beside it a shattered pumpkin.”
Oh, Mr Irving, you funny chap, you.
Irving has a bit more fun with the joke when he posits, in extraordinarily great detail, the possible running away of Mr Ichabod Crane, subsequent to which Crane possibly moves to the other side of the country, possibly studies law, possibly takes to the bar, and possibly becomes a politician; and also Van Brunt’s habit of chortling whenever the word “pumpkin” is mentioned.
Where else in literature are you going to read about a battle of the heart conducted via means of a pumpkin? Seriously.
Support Read in a Single Sitting by purchasing The Legend of Sleepy Hollow from