The Legend of Sleepy Hollow
by Washington Irving
Baltus Van Tassel (Heer, Mynheer, or Old Van Tassel)
Is that You, Santa?
Think of every fat, old, happy grandpa you have ever seen. Got it? Okay, combine all those images. There! Now you have a perfect idea of what Baltus Van Tassel is like. He's "round and jolly as the harvest moon" (1.45) and bonus—he throws the best parties. He's pretty much a shoo-in for Best Dad Ever. And to top it off, Katrina has him wrapped around her little finger. He'll do anything she wants. Oh, dads.
The Man and His Land
Most of what we know about Baltus we learn through descriptions of his land. And it seems that Washington Irving has us pegged as a slow-on-the-uptake bunch because he spends entire paragraphs describing Baltus's insane farmhouse. Go on over to "Setting" to read more about his crazy estate.
But we do get to know the man a bit, too. And we like what we see:
Old Baltus Van Tassel was a perfect picture of a thriving, contented, liberal-hearted farmer. He seldom, it is true, sent either his eyes or his thoughts beyond the boundaries of his own farm; but within those every thing was snug, happy, and well-conditioned. He was satisfied with his wealth, but not proud of it; and piqued himself upon the hearty abundance, rather than the style in which he lived. (1.21)
Thriving, contented, satisfied with his wealth... hmmm. Do we even need to say it? Old man Baltus is the opposite of Ichabod. Just how many foils does Mr. Crane need?
Names are more than just names in "Sleepy Hollow." Check out "Tools of Characterization" for more on this thrilling revelation. But stick with us to get your brain turning about Baltus. We're going to start this off break-it-down style:
- Baltus is short for Balthazar.
- There are two famous Balthazars in the Bible (both kings!).
- Balthazar #1 was a Magi, or wise man, who came to visit Jesus on his birthday. Surprise!
- Balthazar #2 was the king of Babylon.
Ding ding! Now we've come to the important stuff. That Babylon? you ask. Yep. The one with the hanging gardens and the tower of Babel. Babylon was known for its wealth, its diversity, and its lovely debauchery. Think of it like a cross between the hugeness of New York City and the wildness of Las Vegas. Times ten.
To name Baltus after the king of Babylon is to say that his farm and his riches are like those of that city. That's some major wealth right there.
So Baltus is rich. Wait, we already knew that. But here's the catch: we kind of expect him to be a little more like his namesake—obsessed with money, ruling with an iron fist, you know. But Baltus is just a quiet old guy who likes to smoke his pipe and watch his weathervane (ah, the simple pleasures).