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.
The Whole Story and Nothing but the Story
Check out the full text of the story and then let us know how we did.
Eau d'Ichabod Crane
We know you were just dying to smell like Ichabod. Who doesn't want to smell like they just peed their pants? You're welcome.
Two Tickets to Sleepy Hollow, Please
Sleepy Hollow is a real place. Right next to Tarrytown, in fact. Nope, we're not making this up. Monsters in the closet are the least of the worries of kids there.
Get Ready for a Spook
While you're there, check out the Sleepy Hollow Cemetery. That's not creepy or anything.
Tim Burton Style
Just because Johnny Depp is in it doesn't make it the best "Sleepy Hollow" movie, you know. Also, that guy is way too much of a stud to play Ichabod. We're just sayin'.
You Said How Many Movies?
Lucky thirteen. According to IMDb, that's the number of movies that have been based on "Sleepy Hollow." If you wanted proof that this is a popular story, you got it.
Irving Returns to the Scene of the Crime
Time stands still in "Sleepy Hollow," or so Irving says. Is everything the way that he left it? Check out Irving's report.
Home Sweet Home
You can still visit Washington Irving's home, Sunnyside. Say hi to the Headless Horseman for us.
Take a tour of Sleepy Hollow with National Geographic. And try not to lose your heads.
Old-school Disney takes on the tale. They definitely got the funny-looking part right.
Sleepy Hollow Goes to the Opera
Check out this one-act opera based on the story. Ichabod probably wishes he could have had a starring role.
Not Tim Burton's greatest moment, but the story is just so good it doesn't really matter.
It's not quite the same as sitting with Dutch grandmas around a fire, but this audio recording of the story will just have to do.
Washington Irving looks more like a Brom than an Ichabod to us.
Will the Real Sleepy Hollow Please Stand Up?
If you want to catch a glimpse of the Headless Horseman, you can head down to the Old Dutch Church in Sleepy Hollow. We'll wait here.
Check out where Washington Irving lived back in the day. Looks like a nice place, but can it compare to Baltus's farm?
The Horrors of 3D
Is there anything creepier than Ichabod rendered in 3D?
Johnny Depp doesn't quite match Irving's description of Ichabod Crane. Oh well, we're not complaining.
That's More Like It
Now that's how we pictured Ichabod. Thanks, Disney.