For me, few stories capture the spirit of the Halloween season quite like The Legend of Sleepy Hollow. We know the story and most likely have read it many times. Traveling home alone, lanky Ichabod Crane encounters the spectral rider who chases him through the woods, resulting in Crane’s disappearance. Still, no matter how many times you read it, it still sparks the imagination and brings to life all the imagery and magic that is a part of this season.
The last time I had read this story, I was living in Miami. Now that I live in the mountains of North Carolina, the imagery is much more immediate. Every year I experience the sights, sounds, and smells of autumn, when the harvest is done and the trees shed their leaves, the symbolic dying of nature making way for the rebirth associated with spring.
It was, as I have said, a fine autumnal day; the sky was clear and serene, and nature wore that rich and golden livery which we always associate with the idea of abundance. The forests had put on their sober brown and yellow, while some trees of the tenderer kind had been nipped by the frost into brilliant dyes of orange, purple, and scarlet.
Often, during autumn, I like to walk in the evening, listening to the crunch of dried leaves beneath my feel and looking at the skeletal trees silhouetted against a dark sky. This always thrills me in a way that is difficult to explain. There is just something mysterious about trees at night, and Irving captures that beautifully.
He was, moreover, approaching the very place where many of the scenes of the ghost stories had been laid. In the center of the road stood an enormous tulip-tree, which towered like a giant above all the other trees of the neighborhood, and formed a kind of landmark. Its limbs were gnarled and fantastic, large enough to form trunks for ordinary trees, twisting down almost to the earth, and rising again into the air.
One of the things that stood out for me in this reading was how tales actually become part of one’s psyche. It is almost like the stories we hear help define how we perceive reality. The tales that Ichabod hears actually mesh with his consciousness and directly impacts his sense of the world around him.
All these tales, told in that drowsy undertone with which men talk in the dark, the countenances of the listeners only now and then receiving a casual gleam from the glare of a pipe, sank deep in the mind of Ichabod.
I had a similar experience as a kid. There was a legend that we all told about Bloody Mary. The legend was, if you do into the bathroom at midnight and gaze into the mirror with all the lights out and whisper “Bloody Mary” 100 times, her bloody face would appear to you in the mirror. Well, I of course had to try it. The crazy thing is, I swear I saw the face. Looking back, I can see how my perception was influenced by the tales we told each other as kids. This is something that I think about often: how art, stories, and mythology influence how we interpret our own realities.
Stories have definitely helped shape who I am and how I view the world, and as I continue reading, I hope that my view of the world will continue to expand.