Sleepy Hollow, Then and Now

I recently familiarized myself with The Legend of Sleepy Hollow, by Washington Irving. While reading this classic I kept in mind a comedic Disney short of the same title, one I had watched often in boyhood, and began mentally comparing that which was for children and that which was for adults. This was my introduction to Irving and I found his legend wonderful.

~Minor spoilers ahead, sorry~

Of course much of the story was simplified for the cartoon, and they used the visual art to mostly capture the tone of the original narrative. But something was lost, and I think it was the deplorable nature of Ichabod Crane.

On the surface the narrator is almost talking as if he is friendly, or intimate, with the scarecrow like teacher. However, a subtle shift, or growing realization, transforms the always cordial voice into sarcastic judgment. It’s not in how it is said, more the detail of what is said. There is a genius reveal at the end of the original story that somewhat explains this duality of friendship and contempt that permeates the work.

The schoolteacher is not so nearly dislikable in the cartoon. They touch upon his avarice but miss his grasping nature and ridiculous assuredness. He is like a hole into which choice food disappears, and yet he remains a walking skeleton. I know not the perfect word to describe this protagonist, but he is a consumer as locust or famine is.

Brom Bones, perhaps, is the most changed between the original and the work of Disney. A somewhat two dimensional antagonist, he seems to exist as a mere Wile-E-Coyote, only there to chase and be defeated by the clever cartoon Ichabod.

When the story teller is asked the moral of the story he answers:

“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.”

Re-watching this cartoon filled me with nostalgia, and I understand turning Ichabod into a more likeable character for the viewing audience. They try to make of him a Bugs Bunny of sorts. But this took any moral from the story. Even as a child it felt empty, confusing; events happened, but why?

The moral is seen in the juxtaposition of earnest Brom Bones and conniving Ichabod Crane. The worldly schoolmaster outfoxed by the simple town hero. The battle was not to the strong, nor the race to the swift.


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