Tuesday, October 7, 2008

Rip Van Winkle And Other Stories by Washington Irving

The local library has a special book rack containing many of the most famous classics. The copies are available for borrowing with no return date. A patron may borrow the book for as long as they want without ever having to renew. This is where I picked up a copy containing five of Washington Irving's short stories.

I've always been curious to read Rip Van Winkle and as a child I enjoyed the Disney cartoon version of The Legend of Sleepy Hollow, but again, I'd never read the story. As for the other three stories: The Spectre Bridegroom, The Pride of the Village, and Mountjoy -- I knew nothing of them.

Rip Van Winkle is the story of a lazy man who is henpecked by his wife. Rip is always willing to do what needs to be done.... so long as it is for someone else, some stranger. If a job has anything to do with work at home he has no interest. One afternoon Rip goes off into the woods of the Catskill Mountains (outside of New York City) and meets with a strange band of men bowling in a gully. After drinking a beverage offered to him he falls asleep. Rip awakens to what he believes is the next morning... only to discover he has slept away 20 years of his life. This story was clever and amusing and the sort of tale born from local legends and myths. It is a fun read aloud.

The Legend of Sleepy Hollow tells the story of a rather nerdy schoolmaster, Ichabod Crane, his courtship of the beautiful Katrina Van Tassel, his rival Abraham "Brom" Van Brunt, and his very spooky encounter one fateful night with the Headless Horseman. Next to Rip Van Winkle, this is probably the most famous of Irving's tales, perhaps it IS the most famous. The story has been made into various movies, include the aforementioned 1949 Disney cartoon. Another mostly altered version is the Tim Burton horror film Sleepy Hollow, which I have not seen. I have found the original to be plenty spooky enough and a wonderful read-aloud even if it isn't anywhere near All Hallows Eve.

The Spectre Bridegroom is a lesser-known tale of Irving's, but it is still a wonderful sample of his writing. It is the story of youth, love, romance, death, ghosts, and some witty moments. It has the spookiness of a ghost tale, the legend/myth of a Rip Van Winkle type story, a little humor and romance to round the story out. Although I still think Sleepy Hollow is my favorite of Irving's tales, The Spectre Bridegroom is a close second.

The Pride of the Village was a gloomier tale without being the least bit spooky. It opens with the narrator telling of a funeral train traveling through a small English town. You soon learn that one of the most beautiful and innocent maidens in the village has died. It is the story of this maiden and the disappointment of love that brings about her tragic and untimely death. I didn't like it as well as the others as I found the story a little confusing.

Mountjoy is the last and the longest short story included in this collection. Mr. Mountjoy is a young student in rural New England. Not unlike man young males of a certain age, Mountjoy has the tendency to display a rather macho arrogance about his large accumulation of knowledge. At a moment when he believes he has nothing more to learn... he takes up reading novels of romance, something of a surprise and horror to him at first. After all, up to this point Mountjoy viewed novels as beneath the attention of a philosopher such as himself. But soon he is swept up in the romance of the language and finds himself overflowing with poetry and romance. He sees beauty everywhere he looks, including in the small footsteps of an unseen maiden. A series of events leads him to the opportunity of not only meeting this maiden, but staying in her home where he is determined to impress her and her family with his vast knowledge. What he doesn't expect is to find himself the student. This story might be considered a romance, but it is even more so a humorous story complete with morals for the young. I really enjoyed this story and wished it had a sequel as the ending leads you to wonder if there might have been one.
Over all, this collection is a great introduction to the writings of a man considered the "Father of American Literature". I may be finished with these short stories by Washington Irving, but I am interested in finding and reading more in the future.

This particular collection titled, Rip Van Winkle And Other Stories is a Puffin Classics publication and was 175 pages. For some it might be a very fast read, but I chose to read one story at a time spreading them out over the course of a couple weeks -- a little reading here and a little there. Irving's writing is clear and humorous, but it was written in the early 1800s and as such is not as quick of a read as O. Henry's short stories were.

If you haven't taken time to read a little Irving, be sure to add him to your list of authors to investigate.


Rebecca Reid said...

I also thought it was easier a story at a time. Yes, easy to read and no, not so easy, just because the 1800s language was quite wordy. I enjoyed it though! Thanks for your review. Funny how we both read it at the same time!

Carrie said...

I haven't taken the time. You've inspired me. I've always liked the story Rip Van Winkle (children's picture book) but have never read the actual story itself (unabridged and unillustrated).

That's an amazing way of "checking out" books from the library. Their way of encouraging people to pick up classics? Very intriguing.