Short Story Review: ‘The Legend of Sleepy Hollow’ by Washington Irving

When I first bought my eReader, I was offered 100 free eBooks and a couple of links to sites like Project Gutenberg, where you can download the ‘classics’ for free. This one caught my eye because I remember going to see the film adaptation (starring the ever wonderful Johnny Depp – I couldn’t resist a picture…) when I was younger and being petrified. I thought it would be a suitable bite-size read (at only 30-something pages) for the month of Hallowe’en.

As is often the case, this original story published in 1820 bears very little resemblance to the film it became.

It is set in around 1790 in a Dutch settlement known as ‘Tarry Town’ where the inhabitants are extremely superstitious, believing most of all in the Headless Horseman, the ghost of a Hessian trooper whose head was shot off by a stray cannonball during the American Revolutionary War. The ghost now, allegedly of course, haunts the site looking for his head.

Ichabod Crane is the character who unwittingly crosses paths with this phantom, after spending the evening trying to charm the beautiful daughter of a rich farmer. The description in this story is superb and the atmosphere of the settlement created at the beginning is one of the most charming I remember reading. Irving leaves nothing to chance – I don’t think a passage goes by where the reader isn’t painted a clear picture – it really is almost artistic!

Considering that this is rumoured to be one of the earliest examples of American writing still read today, it’s fantastically accessible. The turns of phrase and “old-fashioned” preoccupations like your horse-riding stance, for example, rather than seeming remote just evoke a wonderful sense of history and a more innocent time.

This story won’t chill you right to the bone but it might give you goosebumps on a dark night – Ichabod’s encounter with the ghost (or is it…?) is fast-paced and a good climax to the tale.

Overall: Best devoured in one sitting, this is nothing like the blood bath of the film (aside from the names of characters…) and well worth the short while you’ll spend on it!