“The Legend of Sleepy Hollow,” if we listen to its narrator, is only one of many tales crowding Tarry Town and especially the neighborhood of Sleepy Hollow, “one of those highly favored places which abound with chronicle and great men.” Ichabod Crane in particular falls under the influence of these chronicles until he is unable to separate reality from his imagination. However, he is not the only one to have trouble telling fact from fiction. There is a “witching influence” that hangs over the whole of Tarry Town, one that fills it with dreams and ghost stories and is “imbibed” not only by its residents but also by anyone that tarried there for awhile. Are people in Tarry Town simply more prone to the supernatural and the imagination? Or is there, in this odd, magical place, simply less of a distinction between the natural and supernatural?
In any case, Ichabod is especially given to this sort of fantasizing. He adores listening to the Dutch wives’ stories about terrifying spirits and haunting ghosts. But unlike others, Ichabod is unable to accept the stories as just that—stories. His enjoyment turns instantly to horror and fear – in other words he accepts the intrusion of these tales into his own reality. Brom Bones takes advantage of Ichabod’s inability to separate reality from fiction, and plays on Ichabod’s wild imagination—indeed, Ichabod’s weakness is the reason Brom Bones ultimately wins the battle for Katrina Van Tassel.
Nevertheless, the story is not entirely clear on whether Ichabod’s melding of reality and imagination is solely a weakness or a fault. While he does lose Katrina, we do hear a rumor that it was only thanks to the terror of the Headless Horseman that he finally left Tarry Town and, ultimately, was able to make something of his life, becoming a successful lawyer and judge. And while the story seems to admonish against taking ghost stories too seriously, this warning takes place within a version of a ghost story itself. Supernatural tales and imaginative stories, Irving seems to say, do have their place—though perhaps only as long as we understand they’re just stories.
Reality, Imagination, and the Supernatural ThemeTracker
Reality, Imagination, and the Supernatural Quotes in The Legend of Sleepy Hollow
The whole neighborhood abounds with local tales, haunted spots, and twilight superstitions; star shoot and meteors glare oftener across the valley than in any other part of the country, and the nightmare, with her whole ninefold, seems to make it the favorite scene of her gambols. The dominant spirit, however, that haunts this enchanted region, and seems to be commander-in-chief of all the powers of the air, is the apparition of a figure on horseback, without a head.
It is remarkable that the visionary propensity I have mentioned is not confined to the native inhabitants of the valley, but is unconsciously imbibed by every one who resides there for a time. However wide awake they may have been before they entered that sleepy region, they are sure, in a little time, to inhale the witching influence of the air, and begin to grow imaginative, to dream dreams, and see apparitions.
I mention this peaceful spot with all possible laud, for it is in such little retired Dutch valleys, found here and there embosomed in the great State of New York, that population, manners, and customs remained fixed, while the great torrent of migration and improvement, which is making such incessant changes in other parts of this restless country, sweeps by them unobserved.
His appetite for the marvelous, and his powers of digesting it, were equally extraordinary; and both had been increased by his residence in this spell-pound region. No tale was too gross or monstrous for his capacious swallow.
He 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 to ghosts, goblins, and the whole race of witches put together, and that was—a woman.
As the enraptured Ichabod fancied all this, and as he rolled his great green eyes over the fat meadow lands, the rich fields of wheat, of rye, of buckwheat, and Indian corn, and the orchards burdened with ruddy fruit, which surrounded the warm tenement of Van Tassel, his heart yearned after the damsel who was to inherit these domains, and his imagination expanded with the idea, how they might be readily turned into cash, and the money invested in immense tracts of wild land, and shingle palaces in the wilderness.
Local tales and superstitions thrive best in these sheltered, long-settled retreats; but are trampled under foot by the shifting throng that forms the population of most of our country places.
The story was immediately matched by a thrice marvelous adventure of Brom Bones, who made light of the galloping Hessian as an arrant jockey.
He saw the walls of the church dimly glaring under the trees beyond. He recollected the place where Brom Bones’s ghostly competitor had disappeared. “If I can but reach that bridge,” though Ichabod, “I am safe.”
In one part of the road leading to the church was found the saddle trampled in the dirt; the tracks of horses’ hoofs deeply dented in the road, and evidently at furious speed, were traced to the bridge, beyond which, on the bank of a broad part of the brook, where the water ran deep and black, was found the hat of the unfortunate Ichabod, and close beside it a shattered pumpkin.
Brom Bones, too, who, shortly after his rival’s appearance conducted the blooming Katrina in triumph to the altar, was observed to look exceedingly knowing whenever the story of Ichabod was related, and always burst into a hearty laugh at the mention of the pumpkin; which led some to suspect that he knew more about the matter than he chose to tell.
The old country wives, however, who are the best judges of these matters, maintain to this day that Ichabod was spirited away by supernatural means; and it is a favorite story often told about the neighborhood round the winter evening fire.
“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.”
“Faith, sir,” replied the story-teller, “as to that matter, I don’t believe one-half of it myself.”