News Column

'Sleepy Hollow:' Losing our heads again over Washington Irving's tale

October 20, 2013


Oct. 20--Ichabod Crane has been reincarnated so many times across so many decades, Washington Irving himself might not recognize the character.

"To see him striding along the profile of a hill on a windy day, 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 corn-field."

Irving's written description created a striking visual portrait of the superstitious schoolteacher and his terror of the Headless Horseman in his short story, "The Legend of Sleepy Hollow," first published in 1820. Considered a classic of American literature, the tale has endured through 2 { centuries and shows no signs of gathering dust on library shelves.

Crane has been portrayed by a variety of actors from humorist Will Rogers in a 1922 silent film to Jeff Goldblum, Johnny Depp and Ed Begley Jr. There have been Disney cartoons, along with animated movies, Broadway shows, radio dramas, musicals, operas, parodies and song references.

Now Crane's back in the hit new Fox television drama, "Sleepy Hollow," airing at 8 p.m. Mondays. Loosely based on Irving's story, Crane, played by British actor Tom Mison, has been transformed from geeky schoolteacher into an Oxford-educated Revolutionary War soldier resurrected in 21st century Sleepy Hollow.

He again faces the Headless Horseman, who represents, as it turns out, Death as one of the Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse. Crane and his reluctant police lieutenant partner Abbie Mills, played by Nicole Beharie, must battle a rising tide of evil that portends the End of Days.

"Our culture has always been fascinated by dark storytelling," said Gary Kelley, explaining renewed interest in Irving's story.

The Cedar Falls artist illustrated a picture book version of "The Legend of Sleepy Hollow" for Creative Editions 23 years ago. Original chalk pastels from the book are on display now at the Hearst Center for the Arts, part of the center's permanent collection.

Just two years ago, Kelley created the visual imagery for the Cedar Falls Community Theatre's production of "The Legend of Sleepy Hollow" on the Oster Regent Theatre stage.

In fact, Kelly has been lobbying his publisher to revisit the story for a 25th anniversary edition with new illustrations.

"It's a very quiet story that engages the imagination and builds tension to the end, and when it's over, you don't know whether or not it really happened. I have some new ideas of things I'd like to draw," Kelly said, including landscapes and portraits.

Illustrating the award-winning picture book was a labor of love for Kelley, who explored and sketched the the scene of events around Tarrytown, N.Y., to add authentic details to his drawings. "I wanted to bring integrity to Washington Irving's words," he explained.

Kelley also recalled hearing rumors that his book was on the set during filming of the 1999 "Sleepy Hollow" film starring Depp.

The freshman Fox show "Sleepy Hollow" features movie-quality special effects and settings. It's been so popular with audiences -- 25 million watched the premiere -- that it's been renewed for 13 more episodes. The new dynamic duo of Crane and Mills battles demons in stories that weave together horror, historical and biblical references, romance, mystery and a touch of humor.

"It's bonkers," wrote Huffington Post TV critic Mo Ryan. In a recent US News & World Report article, co-creator, producer and director Len Wiseman said the "key for us is that it's always been, take the mythology seriously but [make] uncovering it fun."

Fans of the series are already showing up in the Hudson River village of Sleepy Hollow, formerly Tarrytown, according to a Wall Street Journal article. In particular, visitors are wandering around the 164-year-old cemetery where Irving is buried, town officials said.

In eastern Iowa, the headless horseman is sending shivers down children's spines at the Old Creamy Theatre for Young Audiences on the Main Stage in Amana.

The show opened Saturday and continues with performances Saturdays through Nov. 2 at the Amanas. Sean McCall is directing the show featuring Jeff Haffner of Cleveland, Ohio, Jackie McCall of Marengo and Garrett Lawson of Lawrence, Kan.

McCall chose the show about a year ago. "Then I started seeing ads about the TV series and figured I was ahead of the curve. This version was adapted by Kathryn Schultz Miller and is told with only three actors. It goes back to the storytelling aspect of Washington Irving's tale.

"Hopefully it will encourage some of the older kids and adults to go back and reread the classic story. It's one of the first American stories that is still widely told today," he explained.


(c)2013 Waterloo-Cedar Falls Courier (Waterloo, Iowa)

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