Why has the popularity of Washington Irving's "The Legend of Sleepy Hollow" lasted?

Expert Answers
iandavidclark3 eNotes educator| Certified Educator

Washington Irving's "The Legend of Sleepy Hollow" depicts the comical and superstitious Ichabod Crane's attempts to woo the beautiful Katrina Van Tassel, followed by his apparent run-in with the Headless Horseman. The story's legacy has lasted for a variety of reasons, but I believe that Irving's vibrant depiction of the culture, folklore, and superstitions of early American settlements is one of the primary reasons the story has remained popular.

Irving does an amazing job of bringing the world of his story to life. Consider, for instance, Irving's description of Sleepy Hollow in the third paragraph of his story:

A drowsy, dreamy influence seems to hang over the land, and to pervade the very atmosphere. Some say that the place was bewitched by a High German doctor, during the early days of the settlement; others, that an old Indian chief, the prophet or wizard of his tribe, held his powwows there before the country was discovered by Master Hendrick Hudson... The whole neighborhood abounds with local tales, haunted spots, and twilight superstitions; stars shoot and meteors glare oftener across the valley than in any other part of the country, and the nightmare, with her whole ninefold, seems to make it the favorite scene of her gambols. 

Irving's rich and imaginative description of Sleepy Hollow's history, mythology, and local folklore instantly brings his story to life and makes his audience invested in the outcome of the narrative. We're treated to a depiction of early American culture, one made up of small towns ruled by quaint superstitions, and it's difficult to avoid being drawn in by this forgotten world.

Moreover, Irving succeeds in infusing his prose with a delightful creepiness, putting the reader on edge for the suspenseful, climactic encounter with the Headless Horseman. For better or worse, contemporary adaptations of the story (such as the Tim Burton movie) have tended to focus on this creepiness, turning the story into a violent tale of horror. While this focus tends to lose the full scope of Irving's narrative ("Sleepy Hollow" is also a comedic tale depicting a humorous inability to separate folklore from reality), it also ensures the story of the Headless Horseman continues to reach a large audience. All in all, it's clear the rich world Irving constructs — especially his descriptions of a long-lost culture and creepy folklore — have ensured the enduring popularity of "The Legend of Sleepy Hollow."

Read the study guide:
The Legend of Sleepy Hollow

Access hundreds of thousands of answers with a free trial.

Start Free Trial
Ask a Question