Author Archives: Stephanie Suh

About Stephanie Suh

I write stuff of my interest that does not interest anyone in my blog. No grammarians, no copy editors, no marketers, no cynics are welcome.

‘The Legend of Sleepy Hollow’, by Washington Irving – essay

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Shakespeare once said that ghosts were amiable, harmless in want of company to console their haunting loneliness, lost in the crossroads between this world and that world. But that is not the case of the headless ghosts – the angriest and most terrifying of all other specter ilks, evoking the most primitive sense of fear to the eyes of beholders by the sheer eeriness of the appearance.  Because they despaired and died in oft violent ways, the headless ghosts are putatively the most furious and vengeful with the domes of their souls forever lost. No wonder there are legends of headless knight riders prevalently existent in the universal world.

Meet the famed headless nightrider of the Sleepy Hollow in New York. Originally hailed from a province of old Germany, he used to be a soldier fighting on the British side during the Revolutionary War who was decapacitated by an American cannonball. His battle buddies buried him without the missing shattered head. The residents of Sleepy Hollow believed that the soul of the unfortunate young German soldier risen from his grave by his supernatural ire burning with vengeance against the earthlings that killed him was restlessly riding his phantom horse at night furiously brandishing a Jack-o’-Lantern in a semblance of face made out of a displaced pumpkin as his a makeshift head, glowing in a flame of fury as to light his nightly way.

The indelible image of the restive headless horseman is terrifically and vividly resurrected by the literary alchemy of the great American writer Washington Irving in “The Legend of Sleepy Hollow” in which the unlikely protagonist of a meek, naive, willowy school teacher of New England by the name of Ichabod Crane stumbles into his frightful encounter with the Horseman on his fateful night during his doomed journey home. Woe betided the unfortunate benevolent schoolteacher believed to be spirited away with the headless horseman to the legion of wandering spirits in between the world of the living and that of the dead till the eternity.

Apart from the spectral elements of the story, Irving’s characters in the story convey the displaced post-colonial sentiments of unease for the present and uncertainty for the future in the chaotic aftermath of the war that was supposed to beget promptly promising bright outcomes to the post-colonials. The nervous semi-detachment from the old world’s cultural and political authority and the unsettled practical value of the war due to all kinds of border chicanery in the still socially volatile post-war valence of setting intersperse the story in the fumbling figure of naïve Ichabod haunted by the furious ghost of a fallen soldier from the war. The legend of Sleepy Hollow is Irving’s superb storytelling of the birth of a new culture begotten from its old motherland at its infant stage of building a national character afresh with its own cultural capital, such as folklore endemic to the new land of hope that Irving so cherished.

The good teacher Ichabod Crane

Flees from the Headless Horseman

With all his gentle might in vain

For the ghost rider outruns the man.

Now the riders roam in the shadow

Looking for recruits in Sleepy Hollow.

P.S. This short essay on Washington Irving’s ‘The Legend of Sleepy Hollow” is my contribution to a weekly Twitter event whose theme for this week is ‘The Headless Horsemen”, which seems to prevalently existent throughout the cultures of our global village. What uncanny synchronicity is to come upon this subject matter since I am currently reading Irving’s eponymous book that also contains many other stories from his wonderful ‘Sketch Book’.  

The legend of the Catskill Mountains

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courtesy of google

Where the earth meets the sky on the mountain, 

An old squaw spirit opens and closes the doors

Of Day and Night every day at the proper hours

And works the wonders of nature in the divine design.

 

The vault of heaven, the dome of Sky God’s palace

She frescoes with celestial ephemerals every night

With new moons hung and old moons cut into stars

Sprinkled across the nightly firmament golden bright.

 

The garden of the earth, the parterre of Earth Goddess

She waters with rains spun out of soft summer clouds

Woven by early morning’s gossamer cobwebs and dews

Flake after flake, like those of fluffy white cotton balls.

 

The old squaw spirit, the wonderful divine artist

Adorns the heaven’s frescoes every night with cheer;

The old squaw spirit, the wondrous fairy gardener

Cherishes nature’s garden every day with delight. 

 

P.S. This poem is based upon my reading of Washington Irving’s ‘Rip Van Winkle’ in which the fictional historian character named Mr. Knickerbocker recounts the native American legend of an old squaw spirit living on the Catskill Mountains in New York. I envision her as a fantastic fairy version of Michelangelo frescoing the vault of the celestial Sistine Chapel and as a fabulous gardener tending the earthly garden with tenderness and quiet assiduity. What a fascinating vision of a magical magnitude it is!

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The owl hooted on the oak,

The crow cried in the dark;

Dogs howled on the hills,

Cats purred in the bushes;

The Night was ripe and ready.

 

Fee-fi-fo-fum, Fee-fi-fo-fum,

The Three Witches began to hum

Standing in the grim gray garbs

With the gray eyes glaring in silence

They were ready to tell his destiny.

 

“Scotland, the jewel of thy crown,

The sword calls for thy title to own,

The blood is thy sacred power,

As it runs redder and deeper.”

Thus, the prophecy of his fate’s cast in

 Fee-fi-fo-fum, Fee-fi-fo-fum, Fee-fi-fo-fum!

 

P.S.: This week’s #FairyTuesday theme on Twitter liberally encompasses witches, ghosts, and other supernatural beings, so my choice is the Graeae, the Three Sisters personifying the Fate of Man in the ancient Greek mythology. They had only one eye and a tooth to share, but the pre-Herculean Mycenan hero Perseus intercepted the eye when the Sisters fumbled with it in the air and forced them to answer the whereabouts of Medusa. They ultimately relented to the demand, whereupon Perseus set about killing Medusa. 

This image of the Three Sisters is then also wondrously associated with the Three Witches of Shakespeare’s Macbeth by the sheer dint of the somber, dismal greyness of the three uncanny women. But as Mcbeth was a tragic figure consumed by guilt and greed, so were the Three Witches, malevolent and dystopian, vis a vis the somewhat faltering and fumbling Grey Sisters menaced by Perseus bullying them to elicit what he wanted to know. 

This poem, however, is more of Macbeth’s Three Witches leading him to perdition because the grim image of the witches conjured up by Shakespeare is terrifically atmospheric and dismally spell-bounding without the pageantry of words and expressions. 

 

‘Fairies: A Dangerous History’, by Richard Sugg – review

Fairies: A Dangerous HistoryFairies: A Dangerous History by Richard Sugg

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

There are classes of spiritual beings according to the races of the supernatural world that humans have arbitrarily defined with ostentatious pedanticism. For we treat the otherworldly guests of honors, such as archangels, angels, principalities, vampires, werewolves, trolls, big-foots, and even extraterrestrial aliens with awe-inspiring reverence, whereas fairies are regarded as sort of the underclass, juvenile guests reluctantly invited to a terrific festival of supernatural beliefs. Such spectral discrimination, argues author Richard Sugg in his Fairies: A Dangerous History, results from the fact that unlike demons, angels, and other ethereal beings of educated Christianity, fairies are in want of respectful scholarship codifying their existence and nature, cultural influence on arts and literature, and spiritual elements of faith/belief traditions in lettered authority.

The book is a meta treatise on why the author himself believes in the existence of the belittled mystical beings deserving of their recognized appellation in the echelon of the spiritual realm with an impressively wide scope of dazzling knowledge ranging from religion to literature and deeply sympathetic understanding of the cultural heritage of the belief tradition wonderfully kept alive in Celtic local oral tradition to this day. Sugg takes us to the remotest area in Shetland to listen to a nonagenarian man whose vivid memories about fairy sights he saw and heard are amusing, to places surrounded by fairy fences on the Isles of Britain where the local folk will tell you where you can see the Good Folk and what to do when you see them, and to the fantastic feasts of fairies as seen and described by William Shakespeare and Edmund Spencer as the rulers of the Vegetable Kingdom in their Elysium of poetic fancy, which is also based on the popular hearsay that became a local folk religion alongside the established Christianity. Sugg keeps us hooked on pages after pages filled with his magic spells of words in an expanse of determination and willingness to let us see what he sees and believes in fairies with their own dangerous history; dangerous because the truth about them is theologically reasonable, spiritually potent, culturally dominant, and physically palpable.

In sum, this book is one fascinating account of fairies that serves the author’s purpose of educating and entertaining readers, both initiated and uninitiated, captivated by the glamour spells of the erudition of the author who uses words as sprinkles falling from his literary magic wands to allure readers to a riveting trance of the Fairy Realm as if the author himself were a chief courtier of Titania and Oberon in an ambition to restore its elusive kingdom to respectful glory of the Separate Race. The result is an enchantingly potent narrative of the mystical sprites told by a spellbound narrator who seems to easily traverse time and space with diaphanous gossamer wings. So much so that I wonder if this book is written by the help of a supernatural being, with the image of Dr. Faust springing from the reservoir of thoughts, in a quid pro quo return for the effectual propitiation of the supernatural knowledge. Nonetheless, this book is something of the authorial account of the Fairy Folk.

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