Not surprisingly, when Tim Burton converted the classic tale “The Legend of Sleepy Hollow” he made the characters his own, starting with Ichabod Crane. After all, everyone has told the story of the Headless Horseman. Since Washington Irving’s story was published in 1917, the horseman and his ride have been used in countless movies and television shows from “Scooby Doo” to “Charmed”. And, with films like “Edward Scissorhands” and “James and the Giant Peach” to his credit, Burton is simply not known for doing things just like everyone else.
Instead, he took a character from the story that was almost universally despised and paired it with Johnny Depp, a heartthrob in the minds of many Americans even before the days of Captain Jack Sparrow. That the in some ways the most trivial difference between Ichabod of the story and Ichabod of the movie is where the difference begin. The Ichabod Crane of “Sleepy Hollow” is better looking, more charming, more interesting and more courageous than the creation of Washington Irving. And, he wins the girl’s heart, unlike a certain school teacher.
Washington Irving describes Ichabod as a human imitation of a weather vane. “He was tall, but exceedingly lank, with narrow shoulders, long arms and legs, hands that dangled a mile out of his sleeves, feet that might have served for shovels, and his whole frame most loosely hung together. His head was small, and flat at top, with huge ears, large green glassy eyes, and a long snipe nose, so that it looked like a weather-cock, perched upon his spindle neck, to tell which way the wind blew” (Irving, 1917). Tim Burton had a completely different vision.
Where the Ichabod of the story was tall and lanky, Depp is short, 5’ 9” and Burton did nothing to conceal his height in the filming of the movie (IMdB, 1999). In Irving story, Ichabod towered above most of the others in a room. In the movie, Depp looks like just one of the guys, except for his dapper New York attire. (Burton, 1999). His attire and that he is from New York, is a second major change in Ichabod. Washington Irving brought Crane to Sleepy Hollow as a school teacher known for his willingness to whip the children who were bigger or of more sturdy stock than himself (1917).
He was from Connecticut. And, his attire was well, appropriate for an underpaid school teacher. “To see him striding along the profile of a hill on a windy day, with his clothes bagging and fluttering about him one might have mistaken him for the genius of famine descending upon the earth, or some scarecrow eloped from a cornfield. ” (Irving, 1917) In Burton’s work, Ichabod is a constable from New York, his clothing’s quality not remarkable when compared to the other villagers, and he dabbles a bit in what would eventually become forensic science.
These changes appear to be superficial, but they make a world of difference in the perception of the character. In Irving’s work, Crane is neither likeable not sympatric. In Burton’s. He is much more the classic hero come to save the town and win the girl. In 1917, Ichabod Crane was something of a conniver, walking home the younger children who had a pretty sister or a mother who was a particularly good cook and would provide him with a nice snack or meal (Irving, 1917). By 1999, he had replaced conniving with a boyish charm, possibly due to the acting of Depp (Burton).
Still, he was man in demand in Irving’s story as people were drawn to his love of books and learning. Oddly, this one point that Irving counts as a blessing, Burton used a curse. In 1999, Crane is mocked for his bookishness and assumed to be quite unusual for his interest in forensic science. Though the village elders have turned to him for help, they regard his work with some disdain (Burton, 1999)/ Both Ichabod’s share a curiosity about things they do not understand, though Irving’s Ichabod also has a disdain and a firm belief in the Salem Witch Trials and the need to destroy such creatures. Irving, 1917).
He never discounts the story of the Horseman and spends many days hiding and fearing the legend before he finally meets his doom. Depp’s Ichabod was a man of science, a non-believer and skeptic. He does not believe in the horseman until he witnesses it with his own eyes and even then, he attempts to find a logical explanation before believing what he saw (Burton, 1999). Irving’s Ichabod wanted to believe. “He was, in fact, an odd mixture of small shrewdness and simple credulity.
His appetite for the marvelous, and his powers of digesting it, were equally extraordinary; and both had been increased by his residence in this spellbound region,” (Irving, 1917). In both cases, Ichabod was captivated by Sleepy Hollow, but in the short story, he had been living there when the Horseman began to kill again. And, Ichabod was a coward.
“What fearful shapes and shadows beset his path amidst the dim and ghastly glare of a snowy night! —With what wistful look did he eye every trembling ray of light streaming across the waste fields from some distant window! How often was he appalled by some shrub covered with snow, which, like a sheeted spectre, beset his very path! —How often did he shrink with curdling awe at the sound of his own steps on the frosty crust beneath his feet; and dread to look over his shoulder, lest he should behold some uncouth being tramping close behind him! —and how often was he thrown into complete dismay by some rushing blast, howling among the trees, in the idea that it was the Galloping Hessian on one of his nightly scourings! (Irving, 1917)
Though less afraid of his own shadow than his literary forerunner, Depp’s Ichabod was none to willing to go out in the night and confront the Horseman, but he did so for love, something Irving’s Ichabod would not do (Burton, 1999). In Irving’s tale, Crane is taken with Katrina, the premier land owner’s only child, but he is more taken with her money, having gluttonous dreams of the fruits of her father’s land and strange fantasies about selling off the land in Sleepy Hollow and moving west to Kentucky or Tennessee and living on the frontier.
He has few romantic notions of Katrina, though acknowledging that she has the loveliest foot and ankle in all the land (Irving, 1917). Burton’s Crane falls madly for the lovely Katrina (Christina Ricci) and has no concerns regarding her father’s money or stealing her away from her home. (1999). This final detail, the gluttony of Ichabod, combined with his pride, justifiable or not, in his singing voice is distinctively absent from Burton’s telling of the tale.
Instead, Ichabod’s interest in Katrina is depicted as a more noble sort of love at first sight instead that of a teacher trying to woo his pupil (Burton, 1999). Finally, when it comes to the confrontation of with the Horseman, Irving’s Ichabod runs in terror, thinking only of his self-preservation. Perhaps because it is his duty as a constable, or perhaps because he understands the tie between the Horseman and Katrina’s family, Depp’s Ichabod is more willing to fight the Horseman and look for a solution for the community (Burton, 1999).
Another clear difference in the story telling is that the Ichabod in 1999 is not rejected by Katrina before he runs off to fight the Horseman and Ichabod 1999 lives to tell the tale (Burton, 1999). The changing of Ichabod is just one of the many liberties that Burton takes with the story when adapting it to film. As though a complete rewrite of the main character were not enough, Burton reinvents the Horseman as well. In Irving’s story, the Horse lost his head during the Revolutionary War when it was severed by a cannon ball (1917).
Burton’s Horseman was decapitated after he is captured by Revolutionary soldiers and beheaded with his own sword. He has returned to haunt Sleepy Hollow this time because someone has stolen his head, giving Burton’s horseman the same motivations as Irving’s, sort of. (Burton, 1999). In both cases, the Horseman wants to find his head. In another key difference, the moral of the story changes from the 1917 version to the 1999 version. Those who do not wish to believe in ghost stories can look to the evidence presented in Irving’s story and argue that Ichabod’s encounter was with his rival Brom Bones, not the Horseman (Irving, 1917).
After all, why would the ghost take his body in addition to his head and why would it take his money? The moral of the story is buried, but could be a lesson regarding Ichabod’s pride, conniving or gluttony. It might even be, “Be careful what you wish for”. Certainly, Irving’s Ichabod is given his comeuppance even if he did not necessarily deserve every bit of it. And, much more of Irving’s tale is tongue-in-cheek, with his descriptions of Ichabod relying on irony to show what a self-important weasel the teacher was (Irving, 1917).
Burton’s story is much less deep and meaningful and more just a good ghost story in a creepy setting. There might be a moral about messing with the dead and desecrating bodies, but mostly it is a story about a guy who is ahead of his time and believes in science, only to find that sometimes the monsters are real (1999). That belief in monsters is probably the defining difference between the two characters. Irving’s Ichabod shouldn’t have believed in ghosts and Burton’s Ichabod should have.