Thursday, 31 October 2013

The Headless Horseman, the 1922 film

The first filmed version of Washington Irving's The Legend of Sleepy Hollow was released in 1922, starring famed cowboy humourist Will Rogers in the role of the hapless Ichabod Crane. It is presented here for your Halloween enjoyment...

Friday, 25 October 2013

Yesterday, Tomorrow and Fantasy on Doorless Chambers

Our Halloween-season posting of The Legend of Sleepy Hollow wraps up tomorrow, but starting today we are offering a special way to enjoy the complete story. To celebrate our inaugural year, we are participating in the Doorless Chambers online trick-or-treating neighbourhood shared among Disney and Monster Kid fansites. Our contribution is a special PDF edition of The Legend of Sleepy Hollow with Washington Irving's non-fiction(ish) essay Sleepy Hollow, suitable for printing, e-readers and the like. Doorless Chambers will be running from October 25th to the 31st, so get your costume on and start clicking door to door! Start by clicking the logo below... 

Thursday, 17 October 2013

The Wild Hunt

Many North American tall tales have their roots in European legends and ghost stories. A particularly horrific one is known as the "Wild Hunt": those dark, moonlit nights when a phantasmagorical troupe of spectral huntsmen charge through forest roads astride their night-mares, cursing, killing or carrying off any mortal in their path. A popular modern American version of it is the song "(Ghost) Riders in the Sky: A Cowboy Legend," written by Stan Jones while he worked for the US National Parks Service in Death Valley. Jones began working for Disney in 1955, during which time he starred in films, wrote soundtracks and recorded albums for Buena Vista Records, including Ghost Riders in the Sky in 1961. Another classic version of the Wild Hunt, also connected with Disney, is Washington Irving's Legend of Sleepy Hollow.

Åsgårdsreien by Peter Nicolai Arbo, 1872.

The Wild Hunt is ubiquitous across Northern Europe, with variations in the Nordic and Germanic countries as well as the United Kingdom. England's Wild Hunts were originally hosted by faeries, and were often headed by the antlered Herne the Hunter, the Welsh trickster-magician Gwydion, and eventually King Arthur. Herne, a forest spirit, was first committed to paper by William Shakespeare in Merry Wives of Windsor:
Sometime a keeper here in Windsor Forest,
Doth all the winter-time, at still midnight,
Walk round about an oak, with great ragg'd horns;
And there he blasts the tree, and takes the cattle,
And makes milch-kine yield blood, and shakes a chain
In a most hideous and dreadful manner.
You have heard of such a spirit, and well you know
The superstitious idle-headed eld
Receiv'd, and did deliver to our age,
This tale of Herne the Hunter for a truth.  
Herne the Hunter, illustrated by George Cruikshank, c.1843.

A variation of England's Wild Hunt includes the ancient Anglo-Saxon deity Wodan, as does Germany's. Wodan, the Anglo-Saxon equivalent of Odin, was considered a guide to the afterlife for dead spirits, or what is called a "psychopomp" by mythologists (in Disney's oeuvre, Charon from Hercules and Davy Jones and eventually Will Turner from Pirates of the Caribbean occupy the same role). It is not difficult to see how ancient Germanic peoples could derive stories of Wodan going on the hunt, picking out the souls of the deceased, or how that could translate to the Headless Horseman. Another version casts the goddess Freyja as the hunter. A prime Nordic and Germanic goddess, Freyja is notable here for her collection of souls from fallen warriors. Freyja keeps her home in the realm of Fólkvangr, and in the aftermath of great battles, half of the slain warriors are received by Odin in Valhalla and the other half by Freyja in Fólkvangr. Modern scholars are not exactly sure why this mythology has two different forms of the arfterlife, but some speculate that nested in the names are identifications for two different breeds of warriors (i.e.: Valhalla for "knights" and Fólkvangr for "soldiers," etc.). In the Scandinavian countries, it is Odin himself who hunts, usually tracking down trolls, elves and gigantic jötnunn.

Odin on the Wild Hunt. Illustration by August Malmström. 

A third variation in the German version makes the supernatural Wild Hunt a punishment for cursed noblemen like Hanns von Hackelberg, another obvious translation to the Headless Horseman. Hanns von Hackelberg was the huntsman of Duke Julius of Brunswick during the late 1500's. One evening before the hunt, he saw in a dream that a strong boar would grievously injure him and he would die. Despite the pleas of his men, Hackelberg went on the hunt, and sure enough, he was attacked by a boar. Using his skill and weapons, he emerged victorious in the battle with hardly a scratch. At that evening's feast, however, Hackelberg raised the head of the slain boar and began mocking it and his dream. The head slipped and the boar's tusk sliced into his foot. By the next evening he had passed away from infection, but not before cursing himself with riding forever on the roaring gale with his horse and his two hunting dogs.

Halloween seems a particularly appropriate time for Wild Hunts, but traditionally they were held in the dead of winter between Christmas and Epiphany (i.e.: New Years') with the occasional one held around Good Friday. As one might glean from those dates, the Christianization of Europe through the Early Middle Ages transformed these stories from the exploits of the deities to the poltergeists of the angry and cursed. A traditional Canadian version, called the "Chasse-galerie," involves a group of French Canadian Voyageurs who want to enjoy New Years' with their sweeties back in Montreal but are stuck wintering in the north country. They make a deal with the Devil to fly them home in a supernatural canoe, but at a price. If they curse the name of God or touch a steeple, their souls are forfeit. This is problematic, of course, because nearly every swear in Canadian French is sacrilegious and trying not to touch a steeple in Quebec is like trying to swim without getting wet. The Voyageurs agree not to drink in order to maintain control of themselves, but one is not so disciplined...

 La Chasse-galerie, illustration by Henri Julien.

If one happens to come across a Wild Hunt, Christianity also offers some protection. Typically you have nothing to fear from a Wild Hunt if you have nothing to fear from God (and you better be sure about that). For added security, it is best to avert your eyes and prostrate yourself, or better yet to hole yourself up and pray like the Hebrews in Egypt during the Tenth Plague. If you treat it frivolously - mocking it, provoking it or even deliberately peeping out your window for a look - be prepared to suffer the consequences.  

Thursday, 10 October 2013

The Real Sleepy Hollow

Today's guest post comes from our friend and co-worker Charmaine, who visited the real Sleepy Hollow, New York, with her husband Tom a few years ago. Thank you Charmaine and Tom for sharing your adventure with us! 
- Cory

Last autumn, my husband Tom and I had the amazing opportunity to visit good friends living in New York City. Five short days was all the time we could spare, so months of planning was done in advance to maximize what could be seen during our stay.

Our friends allowed us to explore the city alone during the work-week but offered up their services as extempore-chauffeur-tour-guides come the weekend. Where would we like to visit a bit further-afield? Massapequa? Eastchester Bay? Hoboken?

For us, the choice was clear. A famous place not far from New York City for a couple  of Canadians who live and breathe Disney? We NEED to go to Sleepy Hollow.

Wednesday, 2 October 2013

John Quidor's The Headless Horseman Pursuing Ichabod Crane

Painted in 1858, John Quidor's The Headless Horseman Pursuing Ichabod Crane has one of the simplest, most descriptive titles of any artwork I've come across. Quidor was a native of the Hudson Valley and based the majority of his works on the local writings of James Fenimore Cooper and his personal friend, Washington Irving. His reputation as an artist was never great, and The Headless Horseman dates from a later period when his dedication to the craft declined even more. Nevertheless, it is still valuable as one of the earliest depictions of the climactic chase from Irving's story. The original resides in the Smithsonian American Art Museum.