…it was a foolish thing, a childish thing, to think that monsters only showed their teeth at night.
even though my brain knows that The Legend of Sleepy Hollow is set in new york, it FEELS like such a new englandy story, and growing up, whenever the wretched summer finally ended, making way for the cozier fall; the leaves flaring before crisping, the scent of autumnal spices on the air, there you would find young karen, sipping warm cider on a horse-drawn haunted hayride, listening to someone read aloud the tale of ichabod crane and the headless horseman.
because of this, i’ve always had a nostalgic fondness for the story, so i was over the moon excited to read this book—the cover gave me full-body shivers, and i loved henry’s Lost Boy: The True Story of Captain Hook and was excited to see where she’d take this material.
i didn’t…love this one.
there’s not much retelling going on here. it’s more of a “what came after” story that checks in on sleepy hollow twenty years later, when brom and katrina’s fourteen-year-old grandchild ben starts questioning what she’s been told about her parents’ deaths and the legend of the horseman.
it started off so well, giving me vibes like The Village
Very little about Sleepy Hollow had changed since its founding. It was like the Hollow was caught inside a soap bubble, or maybe a spell—always the same, never growing or changing. There weren’t even that many visitors, generally—people sometimes passed through, but they rarely stayed. Any newcomer was like grit in the Hollow’s eye, and the people of the village would rub at it until the grit was removed.
but there’s no big payoff-reveal here, no revisionist slant taking what we thought we knew about sleepy hollow and refracting its light in another direction, the way she subverted our good/evil assumptions of Peter Pan in Lost Boy: The True Story of Captain Hook (and, presumably, in her other retellings, all of which i have bought and are still sitting here unread.)
this village-as-isolated-snowglobe scenario is simply establishing the scene—an outsider-wary village whose people accept magic and the supernatural as a fact of life.
Sleepy Hollow believed in spirits and demons, because they lived side by side with those beings. The people of the town believed in magic. And why wouldn’t they? Magic was woven into the fabric of the Hollow. It drifted in the air. It rode through the night on a fast horse.
the headless horseman does indeed ride through these pages, but the more immediate, kid-chomping threat is…something else, so the story is less a reimagining of the source material than henry taking the original and tacking a narrative branch onto it.
there are actually two horsemen here—the one that ichabod crane encountered, whose story has become part of the village’s mythos (and it confirms what washington irving insinuated about the horseman’s identity in the original tale), but there’s also an enigmatic quasi-spectral horseback’ed figure who seems fixated on young ben, his intentions a combination of sinister and protective.
more than anything else, this is ben’s story. ben is an orphan being raised by her grandparents. she idolizes brom, and is impatient with katrina, specifically with katrina’s insistence on her dressing like a girl, keeping out of the mud and being ladylike, when ben has never felt like a girl, preferring boy’s clothing and pursuits to the suffocating expectations of smalltown womanhood.
but ben’s destiny lies elsewhere.
and as far as that goes, this is a very good book about yearning, and becoming, but the indifferent scaffolding of the horseman tale makes this pretty flimsy, storywise.
people who accept magic’s existence don’t necessarily embrace it with open arms, especially when their children start dying, and ben’s otherness soon becomes a liability.
In little villages like ours, those who don’t fit in were cast out.
this didn’t have to be a sleepy hollow-rework. it could have been set in any small town where “different” means “dangerous,” it could just as easily have been a retelling of The Crucible. in fact, one of the best parts is ben’s slow-dawning realization about what, specifically, all of katrina’s dismay over ben’s gender nonconformity and her attempts at behavioral adjustments have been trying to prevent.
I recognized that grief had driven him mad. I also knew, with a deep uneasiness, that any accusations of witchcraft might be taken seriously by the people of the village.
i’m flickering between 3 and 4 on this, but if we’re judging a book by its cover, it’s an easy five.