Book Review: The Legend Of Sleepy Hollow by Washington Irving (1820)

Release: 1820

I assume I was like most people, a big fan of The Legend of Sleepy Hollow despite having never read it. It seems to be a bit of an American tradition to be quite well versed in the story through its countless different adaptations and word of mouth, but not so often the actual book. The story has grown and become so popular that reading it is no long necessary. The Legend of Sleepy Hollow was but one story included in The Sketch Book of Geoffrey Crayon, Gent. and it made Washington Irving one of the first internationally popular American authors and one of the earliest authors to remain wildly popular. I find this idea interesting as the stories he has created are so much more popular than his books themselves. Other early American authors such as James Fenimore Cooper or Nathaniel Hawthorne endure thanks to their books. Washington Irving seems to endure more as the creator of one of the first Colonial American folk tales. Despite this remarkable claim to fame, The Legend of Sleepy Hollow is a much better idea than an actual book.

I read parts of The Sketch Book of Geoffrey Crayon, Gent. but found most of it uninteresting or boring. The Legend of Sleepy Hollow is much more interesting than most of the stories, but still left me feeling quite disappointed. Like many of Washington Irving’s stories, it provides an insightful glimpse into life at the time. It is like a snapshot of history in the form of a mildly interesting short story. Its ending is vague, but with good reason, and its story is rushed through with little development. One positive to note is the lack of pointless fluff. The Legend Of Sleepy Hollow is concise and easy to read through in short time. It presents the idea, presents the setting and presents the character, then quite quickly the story moves forward Ichabod encounters the Headless Horseman and the story ends. The ambiguous ending implies Ichabod could be dead, but more likely he just ran away. It presents a reasonable, but common moral, that usually the simplest answer is often true. There are no real ghosts or ghouls, no folk monsters, only tricks and peoples’ fears getting the most of them. His disappearance only gives credence to the story and reports of his own spirit. A little lack of knowledge about the true events and things get more out of hand.

What I found most disappointing was the development of Ichabod Crane. He was in no way likable. He was described boarding with various individuals in the town of Sleepy Hollow and teaching the children. He comes across as smug and a little bit reprehensible. He creates an infatuation with Katrina Van Tassel not for anything about her that is likable but more her father’s wealth and property. He attempts to push Bron out so he can get his hands on that inheritance. If it was Bron or some other who attempted to scare Ichabod away, then I say good riddance.

At the end I did find the read to be a rewarding experience. The story was simultaneously what I expected and surprising in its development. Washington Irving provides some moments of beautiful prose and a simple message. The most interesting part would be the glimpse into post-revolutionary war America and the legends and feelings that follow. If you want an easy read, definitely pick up The Legend Of Sleepy Hollow. It has an important place in American history, culture and folklore, and it should be read by everyone. The book was a mix of good and bad and overall I’d have to give it a 3 out 5 stars.



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