Oct 29, 2014


Somewhere along the line, Washington Irving's The Legend of Sleepy Hollow became the official Halloween "story." Celebrated every October as regularly as A Christmas Carol is revisited every December, The Legend of Sleepy Hollow's association with Halloween simply just is. Funny, being that not only is the word "Halloween" never once uttered in the story, the events are also set about fifty years before Halloween ever traveled all the way from Ireland to American shores. Where it may lack in anything Halloween, it makes up for with its huge emphasis on autumn celebrations with no details spared on October foliage and (obviously period) culinary favorites to honor the season.

There have been so many print editions of the original story that it would be near impossible to collect them all. (I have this handsome edition specifically.) There have been dozens of iterations of this famous story, ranging from big budget Hollywood reimaginings to animated Disney shorts to an inspired episode on "Are You Afraid of the Dark?" Tall animated busts of the Headless Horseman can be found in Halloween stores and catalogs every year. 

Of all the different incarnations, this particular one is my favorite. This simple effort, that equates to nothing more than a slideshow featuring still art complemented by an adapted audio telling of the original text, was my first ever exposure to Washington Irving's tale, and it's stuck with me ever since having rented it repeatedly from the library when I was a lad. Confined to only a VHS for the past many years (having been out of print for most of its existence), a recent re-issue on DVD had me cautiously excited to revisit the film so many years later.

To watch it now is to be both charmed and slightly embarrassed by its simplicity. The text, as narrated by Glenn Close, is not that of Washington's original story, but a toned-down version more traditionally told to appeal to the young audience at which this presentation is aimed. While the paintings by Robert Van Nutt are eye-catching, and Close does a fine job playing multiple characters, I could see the Power Point-ish presentation turning off younger audiences used to more modern Pixar-ish animation. Still, the simplified adaptation takes no liberties, presenting the story as originally written. (Sorry, kids: there is no tree filled with heads, nor any sexy time between the Headless Horseman and his witchy subjugator. Nor is there anything nearly at the heights of absurdity as is currently going on with Fox's "Sleepy Hollow" series.)

"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...The schoolhouse being deserted soon fell to decay, and was reported to be haunted by the ghost of the unfortunate pedagogue and the plowboy, 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."
If you've stuck with me for this long, you may have read my Unsung Horrors column on Lady in White, during which I muse on the importance of nostalgia as it pertains to my appreciation for Halloween. This particular video edition of The Legend of Sleepy Hollow by Rabbit Ears Entertainment goes a long way, as does Lady in White, in bolstering that nostalgic love. It may not feature heads flying through the air and Johnny Depp being Johnny Depp, but it does manage to be what I hope Halloween will be and how it will feel every year: perfect and pure.

1 comment:

  1. Awesome!! I just loved this version of Sleepy Hollow myself! It's probably my most favorite version of this tale!

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