The Legend of Sleepy Hollow

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Storyteller Character Analysis

The source, according to Knickerbocker, of the “Legend of Sleepy Hollow,” which he tells at a business meeting in New York that Knickerbocker attends. When he is asked about the moral of the story, he responds with a nonsensical logical syllogism that nevertheless suggests that reality might be just as strange as the supernatural. Irving also uses the storyteller as another way to blur history and storytelling, and raise questions about both.

Storyteller Quotes in The Legend of Sleepy Hollow

The The Legend of Sleepy Hollow quotes below are all either spoken by Storyteller or refer to Storyteller. For each quote, you can also see the other characters and themes related to it (each theme is indicated by its own dot and icon, like this one:
History and Storytelling Theme Icon
). Note: all page and citation info for the quotes below refers to the Penguin Classics edition of The Legend of Sleepy Hollow published in 1999.
Postscript Quotes

“That there is no situation in life but has its advantages and pleasures—provided we will but take a joke as we find it:
That, therefore, he that runs races with goblin troopers is likely to have rough riding of it.
Ergo, for a country schoolmaster to be refused the hand of a Dutch heiress is a certain step to high preferment in the state.”

Related Characters: Storyteller (speaker), Ichabod Crane
Page Number: 297
Explanation and Analysis:

In the postscript, the storyteller is asked to tell the "moral" of the legend of Sleepy Hollow, and this quotation is what he comes up with. On first glance, the passage seems nearly nonsensical. It employs terms like "therefore" and "ergo" that recall the language of philosophical argument, or at least of maxims stemming from the culture of the highly educated. But the relationship between cause and effect—between failing to marry a Dutch heiress and gaining an important state position, for example—is far from clear. 

Of course, the storyteller is alluding to Ichabod Crane's own luck, following the rumor that he did end up in an important position after the luckless mishaps of his youth in Sleepy Hollow. Ichabod, the storyteller suggests, actually won the battle against Brom at the end of the day, because he was able to break out of the sleepy village frozen in time. Still, we cannot take this "moral"—that every situation of life "has its advantages and pleasures"—entirely at face value, given the obvious tongue-in-cheek tone of the storyteller's words. Indeed, this tone suggests that any effort to assign a fixed meaning or a final cause to events is bound to be at least somewhat random. Rather than draw conclusions about Ichabod's trajectory and make a pronouncement on what it means for the listeners' own reality, the storyteller evades such an "educational" purpose and instead revels in the sheer delight of storytelling.


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“Faith, sir,” replied the story-teller, “as to that matter, I don’t believe one-half of it myself.”

Related Characters: Storyteller (speaker)
Page Number: 297
Explanation and Analysis:

The elderly gentleman who has, along with Knickerbocker, been listening to the storyteller's tale, claims that he still has doubts about whether the story is true or not. One natural reaction would be for the storyteller to insist that the tale is, in fact, true, and to try to come up with various means to prove its veracity. But he does not even try: instead, he agrees with the gentleman.

Knickerbocker, the narrator, has been interested throughout the story in revealing the fault lines between what is considered real and what is considered supernatural—but the story ends without Knickerbocker ever stating his own views on the matter. Instead, he has various figures—Brom Bones, the country wives, and now the storyteller—express their own opinions. The storyteller's thoughts, though, are far from clear. Does he not trust whoever told him the story? What does "it" refer to—the entire tale, or just the apparently supernatural elements? Which "half," then, does he choose to believe? Rather than dismissing the imaginative elements of the story out of hand, the narrative instead chooses to end on an open note, leaving the reader to construct his or her own version—and to tweak and interpret it even more as it is passed down the generations.

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Storyteller Character Timeline in The Legend of Sleepy Hollow

The timeline below shows where the character Storyteller appears in The Legend of Sleepy Hollow. The colored dots and icons indicate which themes are associated with that appearance.
History and Storytelling Theme Icon the “ancient city” of Manhattoes (i.e. Manhattan), told by a shabby old man (the storyteller). Most of the attendees enjoyed the tale, but one other elderly gentleman seems doubtful and... (full context)
History and Storytelling Theme Icon
Reality, Imagination, and the Supernatural Theme Icon
He asks the storyteller what the moral of the story is. The storyteller answers that every situation in life... (full context)
History and Storytelling Theme Icon
Reality, Imagination, and the Supernatural Theme Icon
The wary gentleman seems even more confused by this logical syllogism, as the storyteller looks back at him triumphantly, before the gentleman claims that he still has doubts about... (full context)