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Beth Meacham, David Brin

The Legend of Sleepy Hollow

The Legend of Sleepy Hollow - Washington Irving For most classics that I read it is easy to discern how they have stood the test of time and attain their classic status. However, a few titles, like [b:Moby-Dick; or, The Whale|153747|Moby-Dick; or, The Whale|Herman Melville|https://d202m5krfqbpi5.cloudfront.net/books/1327940656s/153747.jpg|2409320] and [b:Three Men in a Boat|4921|Three Men in a Boat|Jerome K. Jerome|https://d202m5krfqbpi5.cloudfront.net/books/1347518006s/4921.jpg|4476508] hold little or no appeal to me at all, and why would anybody want to read them is beyond me. I am consigning The Legend of Sleepy Hollow to the “not for me” pile (though I am careful not disrespect any classics because they are still being read more than a hundred years after first publication, just because I don’t like them doesn't mean they are not any good).

I was expecting a quick and creepy Halloween read but found the story to be lyrical and jocular in tone but entirely devoid of any “fear factor”. The prose style is indeed a pleasure to read. I like how Ichabod Crane is characterized and described as looking like a “scarecrow eloped from a cornfield”. Crane’s predilection for fanciful tales also resonates with me and beautifully described:
"His appetite for the marvellous, and his powers of digesting it, were equally extraordinary; and both had been increased by his residence in this spell-bound region. No tale was too gross or monstrous for his capacious swallow."
Unfortunately after the half-way point has passed by with nothing very interesting happening the author’s breezy style begins to outstay its welcome. I find myself losing interest in Irving’s prolonged descriptions of inconsequential things like birds and trees and such, and the complete absence of any dialogue does not help. To cap it all off the “horrific” climax turns out to be very much an anti-climax for me, and the epilogue renders the entire story rather pointless.

It's ironic that in today’s popular culture Icabod Crane is usually depicted as a heroic figure. The original Crane as featured in this story is very much an anti-hero, he is not brave, decent, honest or even good looking. The Headless Horseman in Irving’s story eventually turns out to be something is a lame duck (I hope this is sufficiently vague not to be a spoiler). Both the 1999 Tim Burton movie and the new Sleepy Hollow TV series (2013) have taken the image of the Horseman from this story and upgraded him into a much more frightening and supernatural antagonist.

As a general rule, movie and TV adaptations are always inferior to the literary source material. Here is an exception that proves the rule, I find both the movie and TV show much more entertaining, dark and intense than Irving’s original story. So I suppose I do have something to be grateful to Washington Irving for after all.