Sunday, October 23, 2011

The Legend of Sleepy Hollow

The Legend of Sleepy Hollow by Washington Irving was published in 1820 and has since been seen as a classic piece of American fiction, almost two centuries later acclaimed film director Tim Burton turned it into a motion picture opened with box office success. Although the two projects share a name and the film was based on the short story, the adaptation was taken with much liberty. In the original piece of writing Ichabod Crane was the small town's school teacher and music teacher. His role in the community was vital and he was also the town's source of gossip. Ichabod, although lanky and presumably awkward was an integral part of the community. In the later film however, Ichabod's character is not an established member of the Sleepy Hollow's society, but the opposite, an outsider. Instead of the familiar school teacher who divides his time staying with the various families of the quiet town, Ichabod arrives from New York as a constable sent to investigate the murders of the headless horseman. Interestingly, the information about Ichabod's mysterious life is show through colorful flashbacks during the film. From a viewers standpoint the mystery of his past builds intrigue in the plot as well as his character. His role in the town aside, the Ichabod portrayed in the film shows little similarity to Irving's. Described as: "tall, but exceedingly lank, with narrow shoulders, long arms and legs, hands that dangled a mile out of his sleeves, feet that might have served for shovels, and his whole frame most loosely hung together. His head was small, and flat at top, with huge ears, large green glassy eyes, and a long snipe nose, so that it looked like a weathercock, perched upon his spindle neck, to tell which way the wind blew. To see him striding along the profile of a hill on a windy day, with his clothes bagging and fluttering about him, one might have mistaken him for the genius of famine descending upon the earth, or some scarecrow eloped from a cornfield".  Contrastingly to awkwardly thin, almost fragile appearance of the written Ichabod, in the film Johnny Depp plays a constable with enough charm and looks to win the heart of the daughter of a wealthy farmer, Katrina Van Tassel. Another interesting change in Ichabod's character is his fate at the end of the story. The cinematic Ichabod, climactically solves the murders, unveiling the manipulator of the horseman's ghost. Ichabod returns to New York as not only a hero but hand in hand with Katrina. The book's end is not quite so fairy-tale like. Ichabod, unable to both win the heart of Katrina or solve the murders, is returning home when night when he himself is killed by the headless horseman. The whole incident is not a string of ruthless killings but rather still a piece of folk-tale or a prank of some sort. All in all both adaptations were entertaining, however I'd have to say that I preferred the original writing. Although not quite as eventful or dramatic and not complete with a happy ending, I liked the shadows left surrounding the horseman, and Ichabod's death, and I like the magic and mischief that the town and the legend retain throughout the story. 

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