The Legend of Sleepy Hollow by Washington Irving

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The Legend of Sleepy Hollow by Washington Irving is a classic Gothic horror story published in 1820. Since then, it has become one of the most enduring Halloween tales in the United States. It tells the tale of Ichabod Crane, a superstitious schoolmaster who falls in love with the wealth of Katrina Van Tassel and her father, a wealthy farmer in Tarry Town. After his pursuits of Katrina fail he has a run in with the local legend, the Headless Horseman, who is thought to be the ghost of a Hessian mercenary who was thought to have been killed by a cannonball during the American Revolutionary War (the use of mercenaries was one of the grievances laid against King George in the Declaration of Independence).

The legend of the Headless Horseman is far older than than the legendary story written by Irving. The headless ghost has been a mainstay of folklore for hundreds of years. Typically, the ghost is carrying his head or looking for it. In Irish folklore, we have the Dullahan, a headless rider on a black horse that’s carrying its head under an arm. Meanwhile, English legend gives us the story of Sir Gawain and the Green Knight, where the Green Knight is beheaded by Sir Gawain and, after the act, picks up his head and rides off.

The story has had a considerable life, just shy of 200 years since its publications. It has been the source of many an adaptation, including a 1922 silent film, a 1949 Disney film, a 1980 television film, a 1999 Tim Burton film , a 4-season television series, and many more. Beyond that, there are multiple towns, cities, streets, roads, lanes, parks, and schools that bear the Sleepy Hollow name or characters associated with the tale.

The actual tale is just over 20 pages long, making it a quick and easy ready. Originally, it was published as a part of a larger work, The Sketch Book of Geoffrey Crayon, Gent.. The book is a collection of 34 short stories & essays by Irving. Two of the best known are The Legend of Sleepy Hollow and Rip Van Winkle – both of which have found significant life outside of the main collection.

To read similar stories, The Treasury of the Fantastic is a great place to start. You can watch the TV adaptation here and the 1999 film adaptation here.