Sleepy Hollow the Book vs. Sleepy Hollow the TV Show

How does the new drama stack up against its source material?

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Kent Smith / Fox

Last night’s premiere of the new show Sleepy Hollow was a big success for FOX — 10.05 million people tuned in — but may have left some fans of early American literature confused. Washington Irving’s popular 1820 short story The Legend of Sleepy Hollow (and available in full here) is the source material,  but in many ways the original tale of Ichabod Crane and the Headless Horseman bears little resemblance to the backstory set forth in the Sleepy Hollow TV pilot.

And no, not just because the Headless Horseman on TV gets his hands on a machine gun. So, for those of you who have forgotten what you read in English 101, we took the time to compare and contrast a few points.


(MOREJim Poniewozik reviews Sleepy Hollow)

TIME PERIOD: Different

Washington Irving’s version:  The speaker reflects on a time about 30 years prior, so that makes it the 1790s.

TV version: Though there are flashbacks to the Revolutionary War, complete with George Washington cameos, the story takes place in the present day, when Ichabod Crane and the Headless Horseman both awake from a long slumber. (On the other hand, Washington Irving also wrote Rip Van Winkle, so the show gets continuity points for that.)



Washington Irving’s version: The story takes place in Sleepy Hollow, N.Y., a place where local legend says the land is under a supernatural influence:

Some say that the place was bewitched by a high German doctor, during the early days of the settlement; others, that an old Indian chief, the prophet or wizard of his tribe, held his pow-wows there before the country was discovered by Master Hendrick Hudson. Certain it is, the place still continues under the sway of some witching power, that holds a spell over the minds of the good people, causing them to walk in a continual reverie.

TV version: The story takes place in Sleepy Hollow, N.Y., a place where a local cop believes the land is under a supernatural influence.



Washington Irving’s version: Crane is a Connecticut native who comes to Sleepy Hollow after the Revolution to be a schoolteacher. He wants to marry a local woman named Katrina Van Tassel (mostly because of her father’s wealth) but he’s not exactly a hunk:

He was tall, but exceedingly lank, with narrow shoulders, long arms and legs, hands that dangled a mile out of his sleeves, feet that might have served for shovels, and his whole frame most loosely hung together.

TV version: Crane is a British scholar who is enlisted in the British forces during the Revolution; unwilling to fight on the sight of tyranny, he defects and becomes a spy for the colonists. He’s married to a woman named Katrina. He’s played by Tom Mison; type “Tom Mison” and then a space into Google search and the engine will suggest the popular query “Tom Mison shirtless.”



Washington Irving’s version: The locals in Sleepy Hollow tell of the Headless Horseman, who is supposed to be the ghost of a German mercenary who lost his head to a cannon ball during the Revolutionary War. The legend says that his body was buried in the local graveyard but that his ghost goes out every night looking for his head. He has one named weakness:

…the rushing speed with which he sometimes passes along the Hollow, like a midnight blast, is owing to his being belated, and in a hurry to get back to the church-yard before daybreak.

TV version: The people of modern Sleepy Hollow seem to be completely unaware of the legend, but the Headless Horseman was a mercenary who lost his head during the Revolutionary War, at the hand of Ichabod Crane. His body is put at the bottom of a river and his head is kept separate by a local group of witches. (Another similarity: the original Ichabod likes to read about witchcraft.) The Headless Horseman may or may not be the first of the four horsemen of the apocalypse, and he has one weakness: daylight.



Washington Irving’s version: Ichabod tries to woo Katrina and fails; while riding home from her house, he encounters the Headless Horseman and attempts to get away. The Horseman catches up, however, and throws his head at Ichabod. In the morning, the people of Sleepy Hollow are unable to find any trace of the schoolmaster. It is suggested that the “horseman” was really his rival for Katrina’s affection and the “head” was a pumpkin and that Ichabod left town out of embarrassment:

Brom Bones [Ichabod’s rival] too, who shortly after his rival’s disappearance conducted the blooming Katrina in triumph to the altar, was observed to look exceedingly knowing whenever the story of Ichabod was related, and always burst into a hearty laugh at the mention of the pumpkin; which led some to suspect that he knew more about the matter than he chose to tell.

TV version: Ichabod, whose wife Katrina can still come to him in dreams, teams up with the Sleepy Hollow police to bravely track down the horseman—which, let’s be honest, sounds like a much more entertaining TV show than the original would be.

And did we mention the machine gun?