Diedrich Knickerbocker opens his narration by describing the Catskill (or Kaatskill) Mountains, at the foot of which lie Rip Van Winkle's village. Knickerbocker's nature imagery relies on a simile comparing the landscape to a monarch:
When the weather is fair and settled, they are clothed in blue and purple, and print their bold outlines on the clear evening sky; but sometimes, when the rest of the landscape is cloudless, they will gather a hood of grey vapours about their summits, which, in the last rays of the setting sun, will glow and light up like a crown of glory.
The fact that the fog around the mountaintops looks like a crown when the setting sun illuminates it further emphasizes that the mountains beneath the fog look like they are wearing royal colors, blue and purple. These mountains inspire awe and reverence, like a king. King George, who ruled England as well as the American colonies before the Revolutionary War, claimed to be a conduit for divine power. Just as looking at the king was supposed to be like looking at God, these mountains, too, draw the viewer's eye up to heaven.
Knickerbocker uses a simile in the landscape imagery (the fog looks like a king's crown) rather than a more direct metaphor (the fog is a king's crown), emphasizing that the mountains are not quite equivalent to a king. In fact, they are better at inspiring awe and reverence than any human political leader. The image of King George presides over the inn, but the villagers pay more attention to one another's gossip than to the king's likeness. By contrast, the landscape more effectively arrests onlookers' attention. When Knickerbocker describes Rip's ascent up the mountains later in the story, he once again uses royal imagery:
Panting and fatigued, he threw himself, late in the afternoon, on a green knoll, covered with mountain herbage, that crowned the brow of a precipice. From an opening between the trees he could overlook all the lower country for many a mile of rich woodland. He saw at a distance the lordly Hudson, far, far below him, moving on its silent but majestic course, with the reflection of a purple cloud, or the sail of a lagging bark, here and there sleeping on its glassy bosom, and at last losing itself in the blue highlands.
The precipice has a forehead, the knoll with its greenery is yet another crown, and the Hudson river cradles the sky against its breast and carries the boat along on its "majestic" journey. In addition to inspiring awe (something landscapes as well as kings were noted for doing in the Romantic period), the benevolent landscape buoys the boat up rather than abusing it, as King George does his colonial subjects. Even President Washington's image, which replaces King George's at the inn later in the story, bears more evidence of Washington's military success than his benevolent support of his followers. The idea that the land deserves more respect than any political leader reflects the Romanticist Irving's nostalgic embrace of nature and skepticism of modern government.