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Legend of Sleepy Hollow, by Washington Irving [...] why Sleepy Hollow is such a quaint and yet haunted place. Is Sleepy Hollow the perfect setting for this story? Why? Sleepy Hollow seems far too bucolic to house fantastic legends like the Headless Horseman, and yet, it is such a perfectly serene setting, why wouldn't a ghost want to spend eternity there?
The Legend of Sleepy Hollow
Sleepy Hollow sounds like the perfect little country oasis, and indeed, Irving describes it as the ideal retreat early in "The Legend of Sleepy Hollow." He writes, "If ever I should wish for a retreat, whither I might steal from the world and its distractions, and dream quietly away the remnant of a troubled life, I know of none more promising than this little valley" (Irving 12-13). Irving continues to build up the peace and tranquility of the area throughout the story, so that initially, it is quite difficult to believe the stories of witchcraft and bedevilment that surround Sleepy Hollow. He continues,
The forests had put on their sober brown and yellow, while some trees of the tenderer kind had been nipped by the frosts into brilliant dyes of orange, purple, and scarlet. Streaming files of wild ducks began to make their appearance high in the air; the bark of the squirrel might be heard from the groves of beech and hickory nuts, and the pensive whistle of the quail at intervals from the neighboring stubble-field (Irving 54).
However, as he weaves in the rich details of the beauty and serenity of the place, he begins to weave in convincing details of fantasy, horror, and the macabre that all seem to make sense as the story progresses, as this passage shows. "The neighborhood is rich in legendary treasures of the kind. Local tales and superstitions thrive best in these sheltered long-settled retreats; but are trampled under foot by the shifting throng that forms the populations of most of our country places (Irving 66). Thus, Irving sets the stage for the supernatural in a "super natural" setting, and the two seem to mesh together perfectly. He continues, "The immediate cause, however, of the prevalence of supernatural stories in these parts, was doubtless owing to the vicinity of Sleepy Hollow. There was a contagion in the very air that blew from that haunted region; it breathed forth an atmosphere of dreams and fancies infecting all the land" (Irving 66). Irving continues to weave the natural with the supernatural all through the story, even when Ichabod is fearfully fleeing from the Headless Horseman. "In the centre of the road stood an enormous tulip-tree, which towered like a giant above all the other trees of the neighborhood, and formed a kind of landmark. Its limbs were gnarled, and fantastic, large enough to form trunks for ordinary trees, twisting down almost to the earth, and rising again into the air" (Irving 73). Thus, Irving keeps the reader centered in both worlds, and keeps the reader convinced that just about anything can happen in this "perfect" paradise. Perhaps then, it is just a bit too perfect, and that was Irving's plan all along.
In addition, Irving adds the details of Ichabod's preoccupation with Cotton Mather's witchcraft studies, and his firm belief in them. "He was, moreover, esteemed by the women as a man of great erudition, for he had read several books quite through, and was a perfect master of Cotton Mather's History of New England Witchcraft, in which, by the way, he most firmly and potently believed" (Irving 25). Another man in another place might have laughed off the legends and stories surrounding Sleepy Hollow, but Ichabod was perfectly cast in the role of gullible schoolmaster, and his story was perfectly set in the bucolic little valley of Sleepy Hollow. The story might have taken place in many different settings, but that it took place is such a "perfect retreat" adds to its depth, its' meaning, and even its humor.
If this story had been set in another location, such as a city, or even a more dreary and foreboding town, it would have lost much of its impact. Sleepy Hollow may have been filled with fantastic legends, but it was also the home of happy people who knew they lived in a bountiful place. Any other setting would have had the reader clearly suspecting something awful was going to happen, but in…[continue]
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