Can A Book Shape Your Life?
I’m not talking about self-help books . . . I’m referring to a novel.
I would think many of you are remembering how the Harry Potter books by J. K. Rowling got your children interested in reading. Maybe you were one of those children.
That series captured more than a generation of fans, All age groups were affected. Parents and grandparents right along with their children and grandchildren. It gave them something to read together and discuss. Then there were the movies . . . and I would venture to say hundreds of thousands of households throughout the United States have the books and the DVDs. It may be more like millions, but I don’t want to exaggerate.
Well, I’m of a different generation . . . I’m not denying my interest in the Harry Potter books and DVDs. I have shared on several occasions my interest in The Legend of Sleepy Hollow by Washington Irving. Yes, it is an old short story that was originally published in 1820.
My brother had an illustrated version of it. I continuously asked to borrow that book to read over and over again. Usually at this time of year. There was something about it that captured my imagination. And, to this day, I read it every Halloween after handing out candy to the trick-or-treaters who come to my door.
It has become a tradition for me.
I was talking to my brother the other day and the topic of Ichabod Crane and The Legend of Sleepy Hollow came up. I told him about a previous post I wrote about Ichabod Crane and what really happened to him that fateful Halloween night. It is something I think about. There can be thousands of explanations. I didn’t draw any conclusions, but I did ask my blog visitors what they thought . . .
Yes, this book from my childhood had an impact on me and perhaps my life. I always go back to reading it year after year. It did capture my imagination and it helped me become a better reader and to dig into the meaning behind the words.
The fact that it was published in 1820 gives an indication that the vocabulary wasn’t streamlined for a child . . . I did struggle to get through the beginning:
THE LEGEND OF SLEEPY HOLLOW. FOUND AMONG THE PAPERS OF THE LATE DIEDRICH KNICKERBOCKER. “A pleasing land of drowsy head it was, Of dreams that wave before the half-shut eye; And of gay castles in the clouds that pass, Forever flushing round a summer sky.” CASTLE OF INDOLENCE. N 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. Be that as it may, I do not vouch for the fact, but merely advert to it, for the sake of being precise and authentic. Not far from this village, perhaps about two miles, there is a little valley, or rather lap of land, among high hills, which is one of the quietest places in the whole world. A small brook glides through it, with just murmur enough to lull one to repose; and the occasional whistle of a quail, or tapping of a woodpecker, is almost the only sound that ever breaks in upon the uniform tranquillity. I recollect that, when a stripling, my first exploit in squirrel-shooting was in a grove of tall walnut-trees that shades one side of the valley. I had wandered into it at noon-time, when all nature is peculiarly quiet, and was startled by the roar of my own gun, as it broke the Sabbath stillness around, and was prolonged and reverberated by the angry echoes. 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. From the listless repose of the place, and the peculiar character of its inhabitants, who are descendants from the original Dutch settlers, this sequestered glen has long been known by the name of SLEEPY HOLLOW, and its rustic lads are called the Sleepy Hollow Boys throughout all the neighboring country. A drowsy, dreamy influence seems to hang over the land, and to pervade the very atmosphere. Some say that the place was bewitched by a high German doctor, during the early days of the settlement; others, that an old Indian chief, the prophet or wizard of his tribe, held his powwows there before the country was discovered by Master Hendrick Hudson. Certain it is, the place still continues under the sway of some witching power, that holds a spell over the minds of the good people, causing them to walk in a continual reverie. They are given to all kinds of marvellous beliefs; are subject to trances and visions; and frequently see strange sights, and hear music and voices in the air. The whole neighborhood abounds with local tales, haunted spots, and twilight superstitions: stars shoot and meteors glare oftener across the valley than in any other part of the country, and the nightmare, with her whole nine fold, seems to make it the favorite scene of her gambols. The dominant spirit, however, that haunts this enchanted region, and seems to be commander-in-chief of all the powers of the air, is the apparition of a figure on horseback without a head. It is said by some to be the ghost of a Hessian trooper, whose head had been carried away by a cannon-ball, in some nameless battle during the revolutionary war; and who is ever and anon seen by the country folk, hurrying along in the gloom of night, as if on the wings of the wind. His haunts are not confined to the valley, but extend at times to the adjacent roads, and especially to the vicinity of a church at no great distance. Indeed, certain of the most authentic historians of those parts, who have been careful in collecting and collating the floating facts concerning this spectre, allege that the body of the trooper having been buried in the churchyard, the ghost rides forth to the scene of battle in nightly quest of his head; and that the rushing speed with which he sometimes passes along the Hollow, like a midnight blast, is owing to his being belated, and in a hurry to get back to the churchyard before daybreak. 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 while, 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.
I knew this story was to give me rewards at the end . . . a great chase . . . a heart pounding life or death race . . . Every year I return . . . with a hot cup of cocoa to savor Washington Irving’s prose and revisit Sleepy Hollow.
Here are some links in case you want to get into this legend and see if it captures you or your children in the same way it captured me. It is a legend and I believe Washington Irving did visit Sleepy Hollow and he did find something special about the place that captured his imagination . . .
I am disappointed there is no DVD of this wonderful classic. But, it is available in VHS.
Yes, I agree this was rather long, but I do hope you enjoyed it and will seek out the books to share with your family and friends.
You can always find a PDF of The Legend of Sleepy Hollow on-line.
Thanks for stopping by!