Sleepy Hollow: Washington Irving Novel vs. 1999 Movie

How similar is Tim Burton’s Sleepy Hollow (fantastic movie, BTW) to the Washington Irving novel on which it’s based?

Almost no similarities at all - in the book, Icabod Crane is a school teacher while in the movie he’s a policeman from New York City sent out to investigate a crime (largely as a means to get rid of this bookish nascent detective). The Irving story is pretty short IIRC. Was it actually a true novel, or just a short story?

They both have the words “Sleepy Hollow” in them. Seriously, that’s it.

Have you seen the movie? If so, you can read the story in a half-hour or so to contrast:

It’s a short story, actually, so it wouldn’t take long to read it yourself, but if you don’t want to…


Not very. Ichabod Crane is an unattractive schoolteacher who plans to marry the town beauty. The Headless Horseman is the legendary ghost of a Hessian soldier who got his head knocked off by a stray cannonball. Ichabod Crane disappears after being pursued by what appears to be the ghost, but it the narrator strongly implies that it is actually tough-guy Brom Bones, Crane’s rival, taking advantage of the schoolteacher’s superstitious fears.

ETA: I type too slow. Well, I got a little more information in mine, I think.

What! There’s another Doper out there who likes this movie? Yay!
as far as the OP, I got nothin’ to add…

To expand a little, there is no murder or supernatural elements in the short story.

Ichabod Crane is a foolish, credulous schoolmaster who tries to horn in on a local man’s sweetheart, so the guy decides to scare him and chases him down on his horse and hits him in the head with a pumpkin. Ichabod thinks it’s supernatural and never returns to the town. The end.

It’s a satire, not a horror story.

Upon, preview, TWDuke has made all my salient points! Drat. Anyway, it’s worth pointing out that the story was meant to be humorous. Modern audiences don’t have much appetite for this kind of thing, so Burton took the atmosphere and stripped out everything else. I liked the movie (I love you, Lisa Marie!) but I thought it was deeply flawed. It could have been much spookier if Burton didn’t make everything so literal and mechanical. Evil forces don’t need rules!

If you want faithful to the Irving story, the Disney cartoon comes closer.

Yay, me! I just wanted to add that, to my 6-year-old self, there was enough ambiguity in the narrative that I could believe that maybe the reports of Crane being seen alive were mistaken and the Galloping Hessian really had carried him off. But yeah, reading it as an adult, it’s pretty obviously a variation on the classic “guy with fancy book-learning outsmarted by bumpkin” story.

In the Tim Burton movie, naturally, the nerd is the hero. The narrator of the short story calls Crane a hero, but it’s ironic, because we know he’s a coward who covets Katrina’s family’s relative wealth. Brom, although rowdy and reckless, is described in glowing terms and is possibly genuinely in love with Katrina.

Also, Irving’s Ichabod Crane is a superstitious fool whereas in the Burton movie, Crane is a product of the Enlightenment who (at least through the first half of film) believes there’s a scientific and rational explanation for everything.

In fact, if anything, I thought Sleepy Hollow almost played like a late 18th/early 19th gender-switched version of an “X-Files” episode with Johnny Depp’s Crane being the skeptical “Scully” character and Christine Ricci the “Mulder” who believes there are otherworldly forces behind all the murders.

Tim Burtons Sleepy Hollow is a tribute to the “Hammer” films of the 60’s. There were many adaptations of Poe short stories and none of them were very faithful to the source material. So to honor those films, Sleepy Hollow had to be not very faithful to the source material.

I love that movie. I love the teaser poster with the full moon and the tree of death.

I love the movie. My only problem is that Miranda Richardson was typecast, and therefore I picked her as soon as she appeared.