Critical Evaluation

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Last Updated on May 7, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 425

When Washington Irving wrote “Legend of the Moor’s Legacy,” he did not have to rely, as one might expect, upon his imagination to produce the exotic and colorful setting—he had been there. When he lived in the Alhambra, a fifteenth century Spanish fortress, in 1829, it had undergone no restoration whatsoever; it was literally a ruins, inhabited by gypsies and beggars, invalid soldiers and ragged peasants. In the central court was a Moorish well which attracted a constant congregation of gossipers, storytellers, and water carriers who were the models for Pedro Gil, his wife, and neighbors. For the plot of “Legend of the Moor’s Legacy,” as for those of most of the tales in his collection THE ALHAMBRA, Irving fused together scraps of legends which he heard, and peopled them with standard folktale characters. For this reason, the story is familiar to anyone who has read fairy tales or folktales, stories of a traveler’s strange adventures, or Scheherazade’s stories for the Sultan.

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Irving’s tale has all the stock figures: Peregil, the humble and kindly water carrier who is naive about the greedy and scheming ways of the world; his lazy, nagging wife, forever dreaming of wealth and finery; the spying, talebearing mischief maker Pedrillo Pedrugo; and the corrupt and tyrannical authority figure, the Alcalde. The story itself is the well-known one about an honest, hardworking poor man who is rewarded for an act of charity with a great treasure and then almost cheated out of it, and who lives happily ever after in the end. What sets “Legend of the Moor’s Legacy” apart from countless other tales like it is the author’s skillful use of local color. All of Irving’s writing reflects his love of faraway places and distant times, of the picturesque and the exotic, and is inspired by his desire to escape imaginatively from the humdrum actuality to these romantic realms. Thus it is that he so masterfully describes a sunset over Granada or a mule trail winding through barren mountains, a poor man’s hovel or a cave brimming with ancient treasure, that each is brought vividly before the reader’s eyes.

The original 1832 edition of THE ALHAMBRA was revised by the author in 1850. This later version, written nine years before his death, is superior to the first in that its several tales are unified by a common mood; they share a feeling of melancholy and longing, a sense of loss and disillusionment, mingled with Irving’s distinctive strains of romance and magical possibility.

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