Tuesday, February 22, 2011

Sleepy Hollow lacks "The Legend"

How would Washington Irving feel about Tim Burton’s film “adaptation” of his story called Sleepy Hollow?

I recently watched Tim Burton’s Sleepy Hollow and noticed the vast differences between the film and Washington Irving’s short story.

There are many differences between the short story and the recent film adaptation (which came out in 1999). Firstly, in the film Crane is a police officer, not a school teacher. Also, people are actually killed in the film, unlike the short story. Irving may not have liked so many plot changes.

But the biggest thing that probably would have upset Irving was the depiction of the Headless Horseman. In the short story, it implies that the Headless Horseman may have been Brom Bones in disguise. In the film, the Headless Horseman is real and terrorizes the town’s residents. In order to defeat the horseman, Crane reattaches its head and the Horseman is sent to hell. Irving is probably rolling in his grave.

The film completely misses the marks and the themes that Washington Irving conveyed. The book details about how the town believes in the Headless Horseman and carries on the legend by word of mouth, basically throwing out all natural and logical reasons for things in favor of the supernatural. The film shows the townspeople ought to be afraid for a reason. Also, the film shows that the Headless Horseman is real and in the short story it is not true. Irving is trying to show in his short story the power of legend and telling stories has, and proves this by showing in the end that the Headless Horseman is a myth all along.

Do you think that Washington Irving would like that his story has become a classic and has other artists try to convey his work? Or would Irving be upset that the popular film is nothing like his story?


  1. Very interesting points. After our talk in class today though I'm not sure Irving would really care at all about the changes (except for maybe the head reattachment part, that's just wierd...). What I gathered from our discussion today was that maybe Irving was writing down the "legend" of sleepy hallow to ensure the oral tradition did not die. The many gaps in the story were meant to be filled in by its readers (or in this case Tim Burton) just as a story might change orally from one person to the next.

  2. I think that Irving's story becoming a classic probably would take priority over the movie's misinterpretations in Irving's viewpoint. Plus, there were some parts of the movie that highlighted what Irving was trying to convey. For example, in class we talked about the romantic descriptions in the story and the movie definitely portrayed that scenery. I also agree that the movie was a form of keeping the "legend" alive via oral tradition, which is something Irving would have appreciated. That being said, I'm sure he wasn't too happy with certain aspects of the movie. Then again, is there EVER a movie that is exactly true to the book?

  3. Then again, is there EVER a movie that is exactly true to the book?

    Fight Club is officially the only movie I have ever seen that pretty much replicates the book exactly, making the movie an appropriate substitute for the book. I suppose the movies Less Than Zero and American Psycho, neither of which I have seen (the former of which I have read), would be good substitues for the novels as well; Bret Easton Ellis isn't a particularly skilled writer.

    This article talks through the Demi Moore adaptation of The Scarlet Letter, which has always been intolerable. I don't think I've ever sat all the way through it.

    This adaptation, though, is actually decent. Though not entirely original, it is pretty self-aware, and Emma Stone rocks the lead role.

    At this point, I don't even know if I addressed any of your questions, Emily. Sorry about that. I would totally support a Real Housewives of Sleepy Hollow series, FWIW.

  4. To respond to Prof. Fisher, I think Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas stays pretty true to the book in some ways I didn't think a movie could. There are also talks that James Franco will be directing a film adaptation of As I Lay Dying... good luck

  5. I think it's really difficult for movies to stay true to books, especially because books have a narrative quality to them that are enjoyable to read but not necessarily to watch. Movies need more action to them and need to go beyond the thoughts of characters in books. Since "Sleepy Hollow" is a legend, it changes over time as it is retold, like we were discussing in class yesterday. So, I don't think Washington Irving would be upset with the movie deviating from his version of the story. I think he would almost expect that to happen. He purposefully left the ending open-ended so that the reader could interpret it as they see fit. And, like Emily said, the Romantic scenery in the film really helps bring the story back to its roots.

    In response to Andrew, I cannot even imagine how James Franco would be able to make As I Lay Dying into a film. That seems like a story that would be difficult to turn into a movie.

  6. I agree with Sam's point on the differences between movies and books. Movie stimulate the visual senses more directly than a book. An author can try his/her hardest to convey an image but two people might see two different things.

    Take the Lord of the Ring sequence (LOTR) and Narnia series. Tolkein and Lewis sought to try analyze good and evil using different mediums. In Tolkein's case he used Norse mythology and in Lewis' case he used Christian vs. Pagan imagery. Both of their intentions have been lost due to the movie.

    I think Irving would smirk if he saw the popularity of the "Legend" of Sleepy Hollow. He left the story vague enough where anything was possible.
    I think the debate boils down vague and convoluted or simple and complete.