The first time I encountered this story was on the Disney Channel. I was at a sleepover at my grandma’s house, and one of the perks of a sleepover was watching television late into the night. Unfortunately nothing of much interest to children is on late into the night, so I got stuck watching The Adventures of Ichabod Crane and Mr. Toad. I still have no inkling why these two were put together—unless it’s because both are a bit too smug for their own good—but boy! Did I get scared of the monster in that cartoon! I’m talking about Katrina Van Tassel, of course. I was sure that girl was up to no good. Probably a Black Widow or something.
It was only later that I read the real story by Washington Irving, and found that it was more of a parody of a ghost story than an actual ghost story. With tongue set firmly in cheek, Irving records events as they “really” happened. From the time the gangly schoolmaster Ichabod Crane comes to Sleepy Hollow, he is an interference in the previously-undisturbed lives of its residents. As I mentioned before, Crane is a bit of a humbug, and Jane Austen fans might picture him almost as a Mr. Collins: a buffoon who has deluded himself into thinking he’s a catch with the ladies. In particular, Crane sets his sights on Katrina Van Tassel, the young beauty who has already caught the attention of local boy Brom Bones.
Seeing Crane is eyeing up his “territory,” Brom Bones decides to get rid of the intruder and breaks out the local horror story for such an occasion. Crane is vain, somewhat cruel, greedy, and foolish…now he proves himself gullible and superstitious. Brom Bones tells him of the story of the Headless Horseman—or the Galloping Hessian of the Hollow—which, added to a bunch of other ghost stories Crane has been hearing from the old wives of Sleepy Hollow, create the perfect atmosphere for Crane to be scared clean out of town.
Sure enough, no sooner has Ichabod Crane heard the story than he coincidentally encounters the Headless Horseman on his solitary ride and is never seen again. The old wives think he’s been carried off by the specter. Some people think they’ve seen him, married to a rich widow in a neighboring village. Brom Bones looks self-satisfied, and marries Katrina Van Tassel.
Recommended Reading Age: 10+
Parental Notes: While as I said, this is more a parody of a ghost story than an actual ghost story, the whole headless-horseman idea could easily frighten the very young and/or very impressionable child.
Availability: You can get it in paperback or on your Nook at Barnes and Noble, or view the e-text at Bartleby.com.
Adaptations: The Disney cartoon which--Bing Crosby musical numbers aside--is rather true to the plotline. The Tim Burton rated-R action/horror vehicle for Johnny Depp...not so much.