Nerdy boy meets pretty girl. Nerdy boy gets beat up by jock. Jock steals girl. Pretty boring story, right? We came up with more original plots in kindergarten. Seriously, you should see our parents' fridge. But get this: that's the basis of one of the oldest American stories. We can't even count the number of movies, TV shows, and books that exist because someone thought that boring plot was interesting enough to become great literature. The name of that little story? "The Legend of Sleepy Hollow." Maybe you've heard of it.
Washington Irving was around when America was still in diapers—you know, back when Europeans made fun of the U.S. for having no culture. But then, in 1820, he churned out The Sketch Book of Geoffrey Crayon, Gent., and his collection of stories and essays smacked those Europeans in the face with comedy. It sold like gangbusters—think Harry Potter, bootlegging and all. Included in this collection was "Sleepy Hollow," and with its success, Irving became the first American to be widely read in both the U.S. and Europe. Oh, and American literature gained a forefather.
The story of the Headless Horseman isn't totally original; it was based on folktales that came before it. But Mr. Irving made it shine. Why is this story so popular, you ask? Well it's got everything you could ever ask for in a story: action, adventure, romance(ish), horror, comedy, the list goes on. And something about this sleepy little town—and that awkward, skinny guy—has been intriguing readers (just like you) for centuries.
We're going to put on our elbow-padded tweed coats and start by telling you that "The Legend of Sleepy Hollow" helped create the American Gothic genre and paved the way for big wigs like Poe, Hawthorne, and Melville.
Okay, tweed off, Shmoop t-shirt back on.
This story makes us laugh. Nay, crack up. Do you ever wonder if people had the same sense of humor back in the day? Here's your answer. Once you weed through the old-timey words, this is straight-up hilarious stuff.
And it isn't just slap-your-knee-and-forget-about-it humor. With "Sleepy Hollow," Irving is making fun of Gothic, Romantic, and Romance literature all in one fell swoop. (No big deal.) Nothing in the story really works the way it should, and all the normal things about these genres are turned upside down.
Take that, literature.