I like scary stories, the darker and more mysterious the better. People are often surprised by my penchant for horror, perhaps because I don’t look the part. I’m too girly, too soft spoken, and I have almost no black clothes. My love of all things gothic might be a less visible aspect of my personality, but it burns brightly underneath my pastel exterior.
Like many people, my love of scary stories started early, and one of the first scary stories to make a deep impression on me was The Legend of Sleepy Hollow. In many ways this tale was a departure for me. With neither looks nor charm to recommend him, Ichabod Crane was not the sort of hero I was used to. The absence of superior strength, intelligence, or wit made him vulnerable and touchingly human. A passionate reader of fairy tales, Ichabod seemed a rather sorry figure compared to my golden dashing princes, who fought dragons and cut down walls of thorns. Still, there is something about the underdog, the ordinary person, which arouses our interest and enlists our support.
Undoubtedly ordinary, Ichabod was not devoid of admirable qualities. I liked his tenacity, his daring to pursue his heart’s desire in the face so much adversity. Difficult not to feel sympathy for an outsider in this odd place where “… a contagion in the very air… breathed forth an atmosphere of dreams and fancies infecting all the land.”
Our appetite for scary stories shows no signs of going away. Awash in horror movies, TV shoes, and books that look for new ways to frighten its audience, so how does The Legend of Sleepy Hollow endure? One reason, I think is the tale’s ambiguity. Was Ichabod the victim of a cruel hoax? Was the vision of the headless horseman real? Or a trick of his fevered imagination? The story challenges the reader to decide whether Ichabod’s fate was human or supernatural. Too often, stories beat us over the head, telling us what we are supposed to think and feel. While frustrating to some, I find the idea of not knowing for certain, for having to make up my own mind exhilarating.
The best stories make us call upon our own powers of imagination. Do we believe or not? Can we enter that sleepy town, mysterious wood, or dark grotto and emerge unchanged, or belief system intact? Or are we changed somehow? Of one thing I am certain: Reading scary stories has changed the way I see the world. Like the inhabitants of sleepy hollow, strange and mysterious happenings form part of my consciousness. I peer carefully around dark corners, wondering with a mixture of fear and awe what might be on the other side. My fear is part of what makes me a writer. I like to explore those dark places, to travel down that dark and lonely road, even when I’m uncertain of what I might find there.
TO DANCE IN LIRADON is available at: