Ghost Stories

Vintage reads

Everybody loves a well-told tale. Emphasis on well-told.

As we travel through the second half of October, and grotesque stories assail us on television, in theaters, and in bookstores, I will be the curmudgeon who says, “Most of what is thrown at us is garbage.” Hollywood goes for the gross-out and the gore, rarely setting up the audience for the whys and the hows of the horror to come. The best horror doesn’t need a drop of blood and leaves the listener pondering the mystery after the story has come to a close.

legend-of-sleepy-hollow

Washington Irving’s Legend of Sleepy Hollow is one such story. Don’t you dare run out for the Disney video! If there’s a film that can a hold flickering candle to the literary triumph, I’m not aware of it. Irving, known as the Father of the American Short Story, wrote this ghostly tale early in his career and published it as part of an anthology entitled, The Sketch Book.

Imagine his audience. The story was made to be read aloud in front of the hearth. No televisions, radios, or video games provided entertainment. The family hungered for words as the reader spun a tale allowing them to sense every detail in their minds. They could hear the footstep that caused a dry leaf to crackle. They could smell ash from the campfire in the deep woods. They could see the rosy blush on the maiden’s cheek and taste a just-picked apple.

Our generation could learn from the folks of two hundred years ago. I invite you to read The Legend of Sleepy Hollow on a family night—it might take three or four family nights—but there are great cliffhangers where you can stop each evening. Keep a dictionary handy. I have an extensive vocabulary, but the early nineteenth century Dutch farmers in the Hudson River Valley outclass me. And be prepared for discussions on race. Irving writes with a matter-of-fact view of the culture of his time. African Americans were slaves or servants, rarely landowners, and even in the northern states, anyone of color was not considered equal to the white man. Please don’t judge the writer for authentically reflecting the times he lived in.

Once I read the story out loud, how I wished I had grown up in a snug farm house with no electricity! Irving provides beautiful descriptions of that part of New York in autumn, and his ironic asides brought chuckles and some outright laughter.

credit to nomiz25.deviantart.com

credit to nomiz25.deviantart.com

Several pages prepare you for the action of the Headless Horseman: Ichabod Crane’s personality and eccentricities, his thoughts and habits, the setting of farms and forests, and the rural culture. The author hints at the macabre, the ghost stories that originated and grew from Sleepy Hollow. If you like to dwell on the subtleties of horror, Irving gets you good and scared about the possibilities. Then, he arrives at the crux of the story: a woman. One always needs conflict in a good plot, right? And even centuries ago, unrequited love was not a new literary device.

Irving’s ghost story ends in perfection. Who really was the headless horseman? Brom Bones? After all, he married the woman in question. Or did the specter really exist? Not even Ichabod Crane could be sure. Only the headless horseman himself knows the answer.

 

 

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Vintage Reads: Summer Queens and Frontier Scenes

Vintage reads

If you’ve been a reader of our blog for long, you’ve probably noticed that each Scriblerian maintains his or her own personality, not only in how they write, but their choice of topic. Maybe you’ve wondered what the unifying factor is. What can you expect to find on this site? Our slogan off to the right says it all: “Writing for Non-Adults of All Ages.” We love YA and children’s literature. We love to write it, love to read it. We’re kids at heart, and we know there are plenty of readers out there who feel the same way.

You’ve heard from Gretchen who will cover healthy lifestyle in body, mind, and soul. If you’ve ever met her, she HAS to run off that energy! She can talk at warp speed and some days literally bounces with youthful enthusiasm.

I’m pretty sure I’m the oldest in this group. I don’t think any other Scriblerians have children closer to forty than thirty! My columns have always been written for the purpose of introducing a younger generation to the wonderful stories from yesteryear. Since any item that’s been around for more than two years is considered obsolete in our instantaneous society, I choose to share books from my childhood, from my sons’ childhoods, and the best of the best from the last ten years. Classic KidLit.

Here is my choice for today, a blessing of our American Heritage.

Alfred Jacob Miller - Fort Laramie - Walters 37194049.jpg

Alfred Jacob Miller – Fort Laramie – Walters 37194049.jpg

As a child, I could read anywhere any time. As an adult too, come to think of it. During the school year, I had to take time out for school and homework, piano and dance lessons, but when summer arrived… FREEDOM!!

Now, most kids celebrated summer with the daily kickball/baseball game or hikes in the woods or a run to the ice cream shop. I dedicated my mornings to reading in bed, reading at the breakfast table, reading on the porch, and in the afternoons, reading at the pool, reading in the shade, read… you get the idea.

I had a health-conscious mom, though. She forced me outside for exercise and vitamin D, so I got my fair share of sports, nature, and ice cream. As the oldest members of our neighborhood crowd, my best friend and I ruled as queens of the pack. We were gracious, beneficent rulers (yes, you may roll your eyes) and allowed input from our subjects as to what games would be played each day.Thanks to all my reading, the neighborhood kids enjoyed some unusual imaginary games, all based on plots from my favorite books. When we played Cowboys and Indians, according to majority rule, the cowboys were always supposed to defeat the evil savages. (Keep in mind this was the early 1960’s).

sillyeaglebooks.com

sillyeaglebooks.com

I thought the status quo was unfair, but I held off from wielding my scepter like a club. Instead, I tried to persuade with logic. The Indians were on American land first. Shouldn’t the colonists have shared the land with them? If somebody took away my home, I would fight, too! The boys were not convinced.

Thus began my burgeoning interest in American history. I discovered the Little House books by Laura Ingalls Wilder. I must have scampered through each volume two or three times. And THEN I read Caddie Woodlawn.

Both authors had been published in the same era, 1935 for Caddie Woodlawn, and 1932-43 for the Little House books. Both stories were based on real people. Carol Ryrie Brink faithfully wrote down the tales of her grandmother, Caddie Woodlawn. Laura Ingalls shared her own story. While several volumes of the Little House series earned the “Honor” status of the Newbery Medal, it was Caddie Woodlawn that won the award in 1936. I think I understand why, now that I’ve reread the books as an adult.

Caddie Woodlawn

Don’t get me wrong. Children will love to read the Little House books for years to come as Laura tells the story of her childhood, painting vivid pictures of family life on the frontier. Caddie Woodlawn goes beyond family and into the contentious issues of the day from a child’s perspective, namely: how do you deal with irresponsible people, and how should pioneers treat the Indians who still roam portions of the land settled by the white man.

Notice, I use the term “Indian.”  “Native American” was a re-label once it became politically incorrect to call the indigent natives a name that made it seem like they were from India. In 1935, the common term was “Indians,” and it wasn’t derogatory in nature. Unless a person’s tone of voice made it so. In Caddie’s case, friendship and peace won the day. Her interactions with Indian John inspired nine-year-old Linda. This was a girl after my own heart!

Her story put history on my side.  The queens of Castle Road decreed there would be no massacres of Indians when we played make-believe. If our brothers insisted on going to war, they could fight the Nazis.

Was there ever a time you used stories from your reading experience to act out or use in a game? It would be fun to learn what you were like as a kid.