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Sleepy Hollow2

Sleepy Hollow2

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The Legend of Sleepy Hollow: A Mythological ParodyAuthor(s): Marjorie W. BrunerSource:
College English,
Vol. 25, No. 4 (Jan., 1964), pp. 274-283Published by: National Council of Teachers of EnglishStable URL:
Accessed: 13/10/2009 13:55
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TheLegendofSleepyHollow:
AMythologicalParody
MARJORIE
W.
BRUNER
STUDIES OF
Washington Irving'sLegend
ofSleepyHollow havealreadybeenmadeshowingtheborrowingsfromRo-manticGermanliteratureandfromna-tiveAmerican life andfolk humor.1Thispresent study attemptsto showittobearollickingparodyofancientGreekmythsandritesof Greekfertilitycults,acomicstoryof death andrebirth,fer-tilityandimmortality.Aclue tothisinterpretationisgivenbyIrvinghimself when hespeaksofBromBonesashavingaHerculeanframe,and themessengerwhoinvitedIchabodto theVan Tassel'spartyaswearingacapofMercury.FromhereonIrving parodiesthegodsandgod-desses and therites of theirworshipatEleusis inGreece.BromBones,sonicknamedbecauseof hispowers oflimb,was arusticHercules,ofwhosefeatsofskill andstrengththewholecountrysidewellknew.Hewasarrogant,boastful,had thetemperof alion,enjoyed fightinginsinglecombat,andplayed prankson un-suspectingpersonslikehisgodlypro-totype.WhileHercules wore alion'sskin,which hetook asatrophyafterone ofhislabors,BromnBones "xvasdis-tinguishedbya furcap,surmountedwith aflauntingfox'stail,"whichwasidentified ata distancebythecountry
'W.A.Reichart,JCVashington IrvingandGermany(AnnArbor,1957)and D.G. Hoff-man,Formand FableinAmericanLiterature(NewYork,1961).After25years'leavefromthe classroom torear afamily,Mrs.Brzunerhasreturned toteachingatCarthageCollege(Kenosha,Wise.),where sheis anassistantprofessorof EnglishinAmericanliterature.
people.Herculeswrestled withAche-loos,a rivergod,forthe handofDeianira;BromBonescompetedwithIchabodfor thefavor of KatrinaVanTassel,buthow?-byplaying pranksonIchabodat theschoolhouse andbyen-gagingin thefrighteningridethroughthe darkwoods. In the end bothHer-cules andBromwontheirgirlswhomtheymarried andlived with forsometime.Hercules madea visit to theunder-world ona mission andmade asuccess-fulreturn tohis land.So didBrom;histripto the underworldwas his ridethroughthe forest asthe headlesshorse-man,andhis missionwastofrightenIchabod out oftheneighborhood.Onthecompletionof hismission,Brom,likeHercules,returned tohiscommunity,marriedKatrina,and becamearespectedlandholder.Katrina VanTassel,ashername in-dicates,correspondsto thecorngoddess,Demeter,foreverythingconcerningherandsurroundinghersuggestsripenessandfertility.'Katrinawasplumpandrosy-cheekedand she woremuchyellow(Demeter'scolor).Thewhole VanTassel farmisasymboloffertility,forthebarn seemedto Ichabodtobeburst-ingforthwith farmtreasures;in thebarnyardwere "rowsofpigeons,""troopsofsucklingpigs,""asquadronofsnowygeese,""regimentsofturkeysandguineafowls." Aroundthe barn-yardwere"fatmeadow-lands,""richfields ofwheat,rye,buckwheatandIndiancorn,"allsymbolsofDemeter,
2SirJamesGeorgeFrazer,The NewGoldenBough,ed.byT. H.Gaster(NewYork,1961),pp.199f.
274
 
SLEEPYHOLLOW: MYTHOLOGICALPARODYand "orchardsburthened withruddyfruit."Insidethe housewere rowsofresplendent pewter,treasureof old sil-ver andchina,stringsof driedapplesandpeachesandearsof Indian corn. Evensimilesusedinconnectionwith Katrinaare those of food:Ichabod looked onher asatemptingmorsel,and his dreamofachievingherhandlooked tohim aseasyas "aman wouldcarvehiswaytothe center of aChristmaspie."Themessengerwhobroughtto Icha-bodtheinvitationto the VanTasselpartywas"anegrointow-clothjacketandtrowrsers,a round-crownedfrag-ment of ahat,likethecapofMercury,andmountedon the back of aragged,wild,half-brokencoltwhich he man-agedwitharopeby wayof a halter."He isacomicfigureofMercurywhovas notonlythemessengerof thegods,but who alsoacted asguideforway-farers to theunderworld. Because of thislatterassociation, Mercury'ssymboliccolorwas black. All of the Olympiangodsarerepresented in mythologyaswhite-skinned,butinthisparodyof thegods,Irving uses Mercury'sassociationwithblack and deathto make his mes-sengeraNegro.IsIchabodtoo a parody of a god? Heseems to hold two positionsin thiscomedyof Greek mythology. He is aparodyof the rivergod, Acheloos,whostruggledwvithHercules, andat the sametime he is aburlesque of a worshipperofoneoftheGreek Mysteries.Asaparodyof ariver god,Ichabod isquite plainlyconnected with water by hislast name ofCrane andhis personal de-scriptionwhichis madeinterms of waterand birdimages.Hisappearanceis thatof awaterbird:tall,lanky, lean withnarrowshoulders, long arms and legs,feetlikeshovels, loosely-knitframe,smallhead, largegreen,glassyeyes,acapacious swallow,andalong snipe (alsoawaterbird)nose similar to a beak. Hishead turned likeaweathercock;helooked like ascarecrow;andwhenherodeGunpowderhis arms"flappedlikeapairofwings,"and hiselbows"stuckoutlikegrasshoppers."Ichabod'snature was that of aquietriver:"wonderfullygentleandingratiat-ing,""ahappymixture ofpliabilityandperseverance."Hemadehis advancestoKatrina"in aquietandgentlyinsinuatingmanner."As a riverwasamajormeans ofcom-munication in theearly days,so Ichabodwas"atraveling gazette," bringing gossipfrom house to house. Like some meander-ingrivershe hadnopermanenthome;he livedsuccessivelya week ata timeat the housesof hisstudents.He is identi-fiedwith wateralso when the reader istoldthathisschoolhouse stoodbyabrook,his hours of leisurewerespentbeside abrook or streamorswamp.Hesaunteredwithgirlsalongbanksof anadjacent mill-pond,and hecourted Ka-trina beside a spring.Even his school-house fastening"borrowed fromthemysteryof theeel-pot."Ichabod is also comparedto a riverat flood tidewhichappearsto eatupthelandas itadvances,whenIrving saysthatIchabod"wasahuge feeder,andthoughlank,had thedilating powersofan ana-conda."Katrina,"atemptingmorsel,"found favor withIchabod, but his feel-ingsforher werepromptedmore by de-sirefor herpossessionsthan forherself,for "the pedagogue'smouth watered ashelookeduponthissumptuous promise
ofluxurious winter fare. ... Asthe en-
rapturedIchabod fancied all this,andashe rolledhisgreatgreen eyesover the
fat meadow-lands .
.
.hisheartyearned
after the damselvhowastoinheritthesedomains"andhisimaginationrovedtohowhe would turn allthisto cashand move toKentuckyor someothernewregion, justasa riveratfloodtide,havingdevouredthe land beforeit,would cutnew channelsforitscourse.Finally, Irvingseemstopointto Icha-bod's stature asa comicgodwhenheestablishesthesocialimportanceof the
279

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