It’s not often that a story that is in any way connected, even remotely, to the Regency era is made into a TV series, so when I see one I get excited! This fall the Fox series Sleepy Hollow premiered, and though the story is largely set in modern times it does link back to the late 18th century (which isn't really the Regency, but it's close).
The series is based on Washington Irving’s short story, “The Legend of Sleepy Hollow.” The short story was one of several stories published in The Sketch Book of Geoffrey Crayon, Gent. Another is “Rip Van Winkle.”
|Washington Irving in 1820. Thanks to him,
"Gotham" became a popular name for New York City
(you're welcome, Batman) and the phrase
"the almighty dollar" was coined.
The Sketch Book was published circa 1819-1820, right at the end of the Regency period. It was a big success in this country and abroad, and Irving is considered to be the first internationally known best-selling author in America. I like to think that some of the dandies and belles of Regency London’s fashionable set snagged a copy of this book and shivered with fear and delight while reading about the Headless Horseman.
|"The Headless Horseman Pursuing Ichabod Crane," by John Quidor
“The Legend of Sleepy Hollow” has been made into many movies, starting in the Silent Era, and has even been the basis of an opera and a Broadway musical. More recently, Johnny Depp starred as Ichabod Crane in Tim Burton’s 1999 film. It was set in the 18th century and filmed in England, which is pretty far from the story's original New York setting. This version also stars Christina Ricci and Miranda Richardson.
A video version of the story was released in 2004. This otherwise forgettable offering starred Kaley Cuoco, of The Big Bang Theory TV series fame, along with Nick Carter. It’s set in modern times, and the movie has the tag “Some Legends Never Die,” which actually foreshadows the themes in the new Fox series.
I grew up watching the Disney animated version, “The Adventures of Ichabod and Mr. Toad,” which was made in 1949 and narrated by Bing Crosby and Basil Rathbone. I’ll never forget the Headless Horsemen rearing back on his mount and throwing his “head” - a glowing jack o’ lantern - at poor, hapless Ichabod.
Never fear – Ichabod Crane in the new Fox series is played with panache by British actor Tom Mison, and his Crane is a far cry from the skinny dweeb in the Disney cartoon. The shows are filmed in Charlotte, North Carolina, which is a lot closer to upstate New York than England. Mison plays Crane much like a dashing Regency hero, with striking good looks and a charming mix of bravery and bravado. Those are useful qualities to possess when you’re battling the Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse.
Irving's story has had a big impact on American culture. It's commemorated on a 1974 postage stamp. And in 1996 the residents of North Tarrytown, NY, honored the tale by voting to officially change the name of their village to Sleepy Hollow.
The series opens in the Hudson River Valley during the Revolutionary War. (Irving’s story is actually set about a decade later, in 1791.) In the pilot episode Crane is mortally wounded in a battlefield encounter with a huge, masked Hessian soldier (a German mercenary fighting for the British). After decapitating his opponent Crane blacks out, only to awaken a couple of centuries later in a cave.
He doesn’t have much time to ponder the ins and outs of time travel, however – his old demons have traveled through the centuries with him, and are wreaking havoc on modern-day Sleepy Hollow. Crane is nicely assisted by troubled police lieutenant Abbie Mills, played by Nicole Beharie. She must decide whether to use the handsome stranger’s help to solve some disturbing local murders or incarcerate him in a mental institution.
As you can see, the new series Sleepy Hollow isn't a faithful adaptation of “The Legend of Sleepy Hollow.” But I enjoyed it very much, and I think Irving himself would be pleased that almost 200 years after he dreamed it up his original story is still being adapted for new audiences. He’d probably also appreciate that he received writing credits on the first four episodes!
Images courtesy of Wikimedia Commons