‘The Legend of Sleepy Hollow and Other Stories’ by Washington Irving

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‘There is a sequestered glen off the east coast of the Hudson, New York State, which has long continued under the sway of some witching power; the neighborhood abounds with tales, haunted spots and twilight superstitions. But as hapless schoolmaster Ichabod Crane will discover, the wildest of all stories in this region of shadows relate to one particularly dreadful spectre- the Headless Horseman of Sleepy Hollow.

 I had been looking forward to reading this book since I bought it, well over 2 months ago. As it worked its way down my ‘to read’ pile I got more and more excited in anticipation. Thanks to Tim Burton and the TV Series featuring Tom Mison and Nicole Beharie I’m fairly familiar with The Legend of Sleepy Hollow and Ichabod Crane. This was probably the problem for me as I came to this volume hoping to read fantastic stories just like Sleepy Hollow and to be honest, I was a little disappointed.

Irving is a great writer, that much is obvious. But, for me, he’s at his best when he’s writing fiction. A lot of the stories featured in this volume would be better described as vaguely interesting anecdotes about his various travels. Irving seemed to spend a lot of time writing about his experiences and his impressions of the English and their impressions of Americans. This in itself isn’t boring but to be frank, it isn’t what I signed up for. That’s my fault, obviously, but I feel like I should warn anyone who may have the same idea that I had that I’d say less than a third of the “stories” in this volume actually read like stories.

Another warning you may need if thinking about embarking on Irving’s collection is that you have to remind yourself frequently of when he was writing. Oh, and if you find reading extremely backward views on the “fairer and gentler” sex somewhat irritating and you have little patience for reading racist tales about Native ‘savages’ then you might want to give certain stories a skip. It becomes more and more difficult as I got through the volume to force myself to read Irving’s apparent support of the Natives which then turns into disinterest as he prophesies their  eventual demise.

But it is by no means all bad news. When Irving focuses his creative power on fiction he is a brilliant writer. I adored his stories, Rip Van Winkle, The Spectre Bridegroom and of course, The Legend of Sleepy Hollow. Although I felt the ending of Sleepy Hollow was fairly anticlimactic, that was probably due to how much the story has changed since it was originally written. All in all, I really enjoy Irving’s style of writing, even the stories that were more his retelling of events, for instance Stratford-On-Avon.

Although my disappointment is probably entirely on my I have to be honest, this was the sort of book I had to force myself through.

3 stars

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