In this autumn season, many re-read Washington Irving’s The Legend of Sleepy Hollow, not only for a fun and spine-tingling virtual venture, but also to honor Irving’s legacy: the promotion of fine literature and the protection of the writer/reader relationship which, according to Irving, inures benefits “not of empty names and sounding actions, but whole treasures of wisdom, bright gems of thought, and golden veins of language.”
Irving’s Headless Horseman certainly seemed to understand these benefits, as described by his creator, for he was always out-and-about, into the wee hours of the morning, searching for a brain with which to read and/or write! He experienced first-hand the dark consequences of losing the good head God gave him:
- He could not come out into the daylight – His abilities were hidden and “decapitated.”
- He carried around a hollow, empty pumpkin head – Nothing was in it.
- He rode down a desperate road each night – His perpetual mission was just “getting by.”
- He was forever cloaked in black – Nothing new and bright ever crossed his path.
- He scared people, night and day, frightening others to ease his own insecurities – his own inability to see a way beyond the horror of perpetual fear.
We can certainly use these psychological insights into Irving’s spoooooky personality, the Headless Horsemen, as a metaphor for the consequences of illiteracy, i.e. heads empty of language and literature. For those who fail to become literate citizens, life is unresolved and unfulfilled; unenlightened and based in survival – fear is preeminent.
Can our society, our globe, really withstand such ignorance, want and fear in this complex, population-heavy age?
Do we really wish to live in the same world inhabited by characters such as the Headless Horsemen, personalities steeped in superstition, fear and desperation? Are thousands, even millions, riding behind us, chasing in desperation for a chance to “find their head?”
Do we not see the hope that would abound in a world where all are literate, proudly carrying upon their neck true-to-life heads, not just a hollow pumpkin in the hand? Certainly, the roads would prove safer!
Accordingly, let us rise to the call of Washington Irving, working collectively, head-to-head, to offer exemplary literary and literature-based services, sparking “bright gems of thought,” and, yes, an open-minded – populace! Only then will we be able to relax and snooze away, just like Rip Van Winkle!