Progress Report: Five “R.I.P. X” stories that I’ve Read

Well, I’ve been chugging right along and reading some of my R.I.P. stories whenever I have a window of opportunity.

First I read Edgar Allan Poe’s “Scheherazade’s Thousand-and-Second Night,” a great satire where Scheherezade pushes her luck to tell one more tale, a tale featuring the marvels of Poe’s nineteenth century world. Her husband, having listened to and believed many incredible tales over the past 1001 nights, finds this one just too “out there” even for his credulity.

Next, from the Haunted Legends anthology, I read the enticingly titled story “Spring Heel” by Steven Pirie. (Do you know the legend of Spring-Heeled Jack? My brothers and I were quite taken with it way back in the day. Wikipedia has a robust entry about it.) The story I read tells the tale of a prostitute’s meeting this legendary figure. I liked it.

Then, from Coffin Hop’s “Tall Tales of the Weird West” anthology, I read Grady Cole’s “You Are The Blood.” What do you do when your alternative history’s Wild West is infested with vampires? Send in a gunfighter of course. A special gunfighter. There’s a lot more to this story than that, though. A fun read.

Sunday, somehow during my binge-watching ALL the NFL games (aaaahhh) I squeezed in the Washington Irving story “The Engulphed Convent,” featuring the legend of a convent that, during The Moorish conquest of Spain and facing eminent capture, was swallowed into the ground whole, with nothing remaining save an occasional spectral appearance. Very nice.

Finally, just this morning I read a re-worked Grimm fairy tale, “The Devil With the Three Golden Hairs.” Though I think I’d heard most of the story before (boy born is prophesied to marry the King’s Daughter, King does everything imaginable to thwart the prophecy, King Fails) it was still an enjoyable read, and included a visit to the Devil and the Devil’s mother(!), who actually helps out our hero. I should revisit more fairy tales.

Illustration found at

That’s what I’ve done so far. What have YOU included in your R.I.P. X reading?

The Galloping Hessian of the Hollow

The Legend of Sleepy Hollow by Washington Irving

I finished this story late Saturday night. It’s one of those stories that is imbedded in the cultural consciousness of America. Indeed, it was one of the earliest examples of American Literature AND was written by one of its pioneers. Who among us didn’t learn or hear the story of “The Headless Horseman” when we were growing up? The image of a horseman without a head is an irresistible horror icon to the young, reinforced every year around the time of Halloween. Note: My following comments assume one is already familiar with the basics of the story.

The actual “supernatural” portion of this tale only takes up the last few pages, and there is some pretty compelling evidence given by the author that nothing supernatural happened at all – that the Headless Horseman’s appearance was just a charade by Brom Bones and/or his “gang.” Sure, we learn that poor Ichabod “most firmly and potently believed” in witchcraft and the supernatural, but it seems to me that the local legend of the horseman is only the framework around which the story of an awkward schoolmaster and his unrealized dreams of happiness is told.

I re-read this story just after finishing my book club’s march assignment, Kathryn Stockett’s The Help, to which – although I enjoyed it – the beauty of Irving’s prose in comparison was quite refreshing. His early descriptions of the landscape of Sleepy Hollow are wonderful, and his characterization of the unfortunate Ichabod Crane – including the physical descriptions – rekindled my appreciation for really fine writing. (” …hands that dangled a mile out of his sleeves, and feet that might be taken as shovels…”, etc.). Crane is a late 18th Century nerd!

In spite of this, he is not without prospects, and is a popular figure among the local womenfolk, known for his erudition (he’s “read several books right through”…) and is a welcome guest in the households of the hollow. He sets his aim high – on Katrina Van Tassel, the daughter of a “wealthy” farmer. She is a flirt, however, and it seems unclear if she is interested in Crane for anything other than to make other suitors – Brom Bones among them – jealous. Some of my favorite writing in this story surrounds Katrina’s nature. A favorite passage:

“I profess not to know how women’s hearts are wooed and won. To me they have always been matters of riddle and admiration. Some seem to have but one vulnerable point, or door of access, while others have a thousand avenues and may be captured in a thousand different ways. It is a great skill to gain the former, but still greater proof of generalship to maintain possession of the latter, for the man must battle for his fortress at every door and window. He who wins a thousand common hearts is therefore entitled to some renown, but he who keeps undisputed sway over the heart of a coquette is indeed a hero.”

Words that are probably just as true today as they were when they were written roughly two-hundred years ago.

Take some time and read this story. It’s well worth it. It only takes about forty-five minutes, so one night this week, instead of watching American Idol, or a CSI or Law & Order rerun on television why not just turn off that appliance and read one of the classic stories in American Literature…

Three quick hits…

Next up: The Legend of Sleepy Hollow

A busy weekend prevented me from reading my weekly short story already, but I did draw a card from the deck, getting the five of hearts, which directs me to read Washington Irving’s The Legend of Sleepy Hollow.  I know I’ve read this before, but it may have been almost 20 years ago now.  I’m looking forward to revisiting it in more depth now that I have a couple more decades of reading under my belt.  Any Washington Irving fans out there?

Andy Rooney probably considers me the enemy

A co-worker pointed out to me that Andy Rooney’s bit at the end of 60 Minutes last night was about e-readers, and how he prefers books.  (Everyone who’s surprised, please raise their hands.  Anyone?!?)  Anyway, here is a link to watch his piece.  Nothing too surprising there for me.  I agree and appreciate there is comfort in being surrounded by books in your office or workspace (I am too – at my home “office” anyway) but I love the accessibility AND the portability of lugging around the equivalent of a few crates of books with you at all times.  I think he didn’t like that one of his older efforts was a free eBook now, too.  Oh well, he gets paid to be a crotchety old man, doesn’t he?  Anyone catch this last night?  Or what do you think after watching the link to the video?

I started reading The Help

This is my book club’s book for March.  It’s a bit longer so I thought I’d better get started.  My first thoughts are that it’ll go fairly quick, BUT I hate (I absolutely HATE) reading books with non-standard English dialects spelled out (like saying “Law..” when the speaker means “Lord…” or “instead a” rather than “instead of.”  I guess the dialogue wouldn’t read true otherwise, but it feels like I’m playing a musical instrument that’s been tuned wrong, and will have to make an adjustment back to “normal” English when I’m done.  Maybe this is me being a literary snob.  Does this bother anyone else?


Was the Rip van Winkle story just an early example of alien abduction?

Re-reading this classic story – as a modern reader – I couldn’t help but notice that some elements are eerily similar to the modern-day accounts of alleged UFO abductees. There are the “little men,” lost time, the thunder-sound (coming from the other side of the mountain).

And the most striking fact for me was that he “returns” years later, where the town has aged but he has not, with the exception of growing his long white beard. Is this not what theoretically happens when beings travel at the velocities approaching the speed of light? Time “slows down” for such travelers; they themselves age at a “normal” rate relative to those they left behind who age much, much faster. Isn’t this just what our old friend Rip observed to be the case?

I submit that the folk he encountered in the Catskills were not, as rumored, the spirits of Henry Hudson’s crew of the Half Moon, but the extraterrestrial crew of a spacecraft which made thunderously loud noise when it was touching down” or “landing” in the remote mountain terrain. The crew, upon being discovered by Rip, are unsure what to do with him, and eventually drug him and take them away on their ship with them, perhaps visiting their home planet or a nearby base. It is eventually decided that this poor creature should be returned and they take him to the exact spot where he was abducted (next to his now rusted and decayed rifle), leaving Rip with the mystery he encounters and that which is told to us by Diedrich Knickerbocker, Washington Irving’s fictional chronicler.

What do you think?

Wonderful Myth from the Catskill Mountains

When re-reading the Washington Irving story, Rip Van Winkle, for my book club’s annual ‘Short Story Month,’ I serendipitously came upon the following myth in a post-script to the on-line copy of the story I happened to read:

“The Kaatsberg, or Catskill Mountains, have always been a region full of fable. The Indians considered them the abode of spirits, who influenced the weather, spreading sunshine or clouds over the landscape, and sending good or bad hunting seasons. They were ruled by an old squaw spirit, said to be their mother. She dwelt on the highest peak of the Catskills, and had charge of the doors of day and night to open and shut them at the proper hour. She hung up the new moon in the skies, and cut up the old ones into stars. In times of drought, if properly propitiated, she would spin light summer clouds out of cobwebs and morning dew, and send them off from the crest of the mountain, flake after flake, like flakes of carded cotton, to float in the air; until, dissolved by the heat of the sun, they would fall in gentle showers, causing the grass to spring, the fruits to ripen, and the corn to grow an inch an hour. If displeased, however, she would brew up clouds black as ink, sitting in the midst of them like a bottle-bellied spider in the midst of its web; and when these clouds broke, woe betide the valleys!”

I love this!  Especially how the old squaw spirit “hung up the new moon” and ‘cut up the old ones into stars.”  What a wonderful image.

Below: Thomas Doughty’s “In the Catskills’  (I suspect the height of the mountains is somewhat exaggerated…)