Study Guide

The Legend of Sleepy Hollow The Supernatural

By Washington Irving

The Supernatural

A drowsy, dreamy influence seems to hang over the land, and to pervade the very atmosphere. Some say that the place was bewitched by a high German doctor, during the early days of the settlement; others, that an old Indian chief, the prophet or wizard of his tribe, held his powwows there before the country was discovered by Master Hendrick Hudson. (1.3)

Right away, we're told that something fishy is going down in Sleepy Hollow. Would we read the supernatural elements of the story differently if Irving didn't lay it out for us right from the get go?

Another of his sources of fearful pleasure was, to pass long winter evenings with the old Dutch wives, as they sat spinning by the fire, with a row of apples roasting and spluttering along the hearth, and listen to their marvellous tales of ghosts and goblins, and haunted fields, and haunted brooks, and haunted bridges, and haunted houses, and particularly of the headless horseman, or galloping Hessian of the Hollow, as they sometimes called him. (1.17)

The natural and the supernatural seem pretty cozy in "Sleepy Hollow." You know, cooking, sewing, and telling ghost stories—no biggie.

He would delight them equally by his anecdotes of witchcraft, and of the direful omens and portentous sights and sounds in the air, which prevailed, in the earlier times of Connecticut; and would frighten them woefully with speculations upon comets and shooting stars; and with the alarming fact that the world did absolutely turn round, and that they were half the time topsy-turvy! (1.17)

Do Ichabod's stories seem out of place to anyone? The old wives are talking about hauntings, and he comes in with (pseudo) science. Does he think they're the same thing? True, the iPhone is a magical thing, but are science and the supernatural the same thing in Sleepy Hollow?

"[H]e would have passed a pleasant life of it, in despite of the devil and all his works, if his path had not been crossed by a being that causes more perplexity to mortal man than ghosts, goblins, and the whole race of witches put together, and that was—a woman. (1.19)

Oh, Irving.

They harried his hitherto peaceful domains; smoked out his singing school, by stopping up the chimney; broke into the school-house at night, in spite of its formidable fastenings of withe and window stakes, and turned every thing topsy-turvy: so that the poor schoolmaster began to think all the witches in the country held their meetings there. (1.31)

Ichabod is so obsessed with the supernatural that he thinks these very human pranks are something much more frightening. For a teacher, he sure isn't the smartest guy.

Many dismal tales were told about funeral trains, and mourning cries and wailings heard and seen about the great tree where the unfortunate Major André was taken, and which stood in the neighborhood. (1.52)

War is a tragic part of Sleepy Hollow's history, there's no avoiding it. But scary stories are a great way to keep the legend alive. We're pretty sure we would have remembered more about history class if it were told in scary story form while our teacher made spooky noises. What do you think, Teach?

The stories of Brouwer, of Bones, and a whole budget of others, were called to mind; and when they had diligently considered them all, and compared them with the symptoms of the present case, they shook their heads, and came to the conclusion that Ichabod had been carried off by the galloping Hessian. (1.71)

The supernatural wins again. According to the citizens of Sleepy Hollow, there can be no other, more probable explanation. What does this tell us about this little town?

The school-house being deserted, soon fell to decay, and was reported to be haunted by the ghost of the unfortunate pedagogue; and the ploughboy, loitering homeward of a still summer evening, has often fancied his voice at a distance, chanting a melancholy psalm tune among the tranquil solitudes of Sleepy Hollow. (1.73)

Just like that, Ichabod becomes a scary story himself. It's the circle of life. Elton John music not included.