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Pumpkin-head jousting and Washington Irvings The Legend of Sleepy Hollow

The Legend of Sleep Holly by Washington Irving Pumpkin head jousting and Washington Irvings The Legend of Sleepy Hollow


(Contains spoilers, but its a classic. You know how it ends anyway, right?)

I often attempt to read books in situ, although I cant say that Ive 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 isnt quite the same.)

Anyway, the US is a long way to go to read Washington Irvings 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 wouldnt 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:

 Pumpkin head jousting and Washington Irvings The Legend of Sleepy Hollow

Unfortunately, The Legend of Sleepy Hollow has forever been tainted in my mind by the fact that I saw a film adaptation before reading itsomething that I wouldnt 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 didnt 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 cant 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 Ichabods 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 Brunts (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 its really quite hilarious, particularly when its 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 Brunts 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.

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  1. I got it from Project Gutenberg and yes, it is funny. it was never intended to be scary, but hey, as you say, Johnny Depp. Did you ever see the animated Disney version? I seem to recall it was probably more faithful to the mood of the original than the Depp movie. It was funny. And Crane was the skinny schoolmaster of the novella.

    • Stephanie /

      I was utterly surprised. I was honestly expecting something grim and Poeian! I havent seen the Disney version, but will see if I can find it. :)

  2. I read this story earlier this year, and I too had seen Johnny Depps movie version beforehand, which kind of tainted the story for me. Still, it was mellower than I expected and I enjoyed the smashed pumpkins.

    • Stephanie /

      Its funny how a film version can do that. The aesthetics of the film really remained with me, so it actually took me a little while to pick up on the humour. :)

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