Book In Common: “Sleepy Hollow” starts out dreamy but quickly turns into a nightmare

I love to read, the more words the better. I like all kinds of authors, but now and then I like to read old-fashioned stuff, and there weren’t that many writers back in the old days that can appeal to the modern reader. The Victorian era was tough – very wordy, writers often went overboard with the words and made their stories unreadable, no matter how good the plot. For example – I love Robert Louis Stevenson, but “Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde” is one of the worst books I’ve ever forced myself through. The plot line really piqued my interest, but the style in which he wrote it – stiff old fashioned verbose – was drier than dirt. And, the reader never “sees” the action directly – it’s all told, in the past tense, by some boring character that puts you to sleep. I wish Stevenson was still alive, I’d ask for a re-do. 

But read “Treasure Island,” you’ll read it again and again, it’s one of the best books ever written, in it’s original text, thrilling, one word drags you on helplessly to the next. You will be sad in the end. You won’t forget Long John Silver, in fact, you might even know him.

I also enjoy Charles Dickens, Herman Melville, and Arthur Conan Doyle, all British. Washington Irving is one of my favorite American authors of that period, he could tell a story that had you on the edge of your seat from the very beginning. Very quickly you know the Legend of Sleepy Hollow is going to be one hum-dinger of a ghost story.

“In 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.”

In this first run-on sentence, we know everything we need to know about the town – including the fact that sailors needed to bless themselves when they approached the shore. 

Irving describes his first sight of Sleepy Hollow, where he seems to have wandered aimlessly as a child, gives it the ghostly feel – “all nature is peculiarly quiet…a drowsy, dreamy nature seems to hang over the land” giving the residents a mildly bewitched appearance – “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 ninefold, seems to make it the favorite scene of her gambols.”

 Irving introduces us to the spirit horseman immediately   – commander-in-chief of all the powers of the air, is the apparition of a figure on horseback, without a head.

I read in Wikipedia that parts of this story were inspired by true events – a family named Van Tassel, still very prominent in the Sleepy Hollow cemetery, had found a dead, headless “Hessian” (German) soldier on their property, and had paid the church for a proper cemetery burial. So, you gotta wonder. 

Click on the picture to find Nightskye with Lance Keimig

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