Everybody knows this well-known story, right? Well, I thought I did, and
I am certain I've read it at some point through the years, but reading it again was all new to me. It is a very short fairy tale taking place in a colonial
Dutch village in New York's Catskill Mountains. It was first published in 1819 by American writer Washington Irving (1783-1859). It begins while America was
still under British rule, and ends after Van Winkle awakens from his twenty-year nap to find that the Revolution has made America a free country.
The story is related from papers found belonging to an old New York gentleman
named Diedrich Knickerbocker, who was interested in Dutch history in America,
and is guaranteed to be absolutely true.
Well, not really, but so the story goes.
The tale itself is short and simple: Rip Van Winkle is a likeable character to everyone but his wife, who nags him incessantly. She is made to look like the villain, but in fact, Van Winkle is a lazy idler who takes care of everyone but his own family!. His house and farm are in ruins and his children in rags, yet he's always there to help the neighbors. Because he's so agreeable he is popular outside his home, where everyone gossips about how his miserable wife henpecks him. But at home, his only friend is his dog Wolf.
One day he goes shooting in the mountains, and comes across a strange fellow carrying a large keg of spirits, who calls his name and requests his assistance in carrying his burden.. They reach a sort of amphitheatre, where all manner of odd little men are playing nine-pins (bowling); the sound of the balls rolling like thunder. Rip helps pass the flagon of booze, and cannot help but taking a taste himself. Soon he falls asleep.
When he awakens, he is alone. His dog is gone and his gun is mighty rusty. He is stiff and discovers he has grown a long beard. When he enters his village, he barely recognizes it. His wife, he learns, is dead, as are many of his friends. Then he sees the spittin' image of himself years ago, leaning against a tree—idleness included. It is his grown son. His daughter has fared much better and is now secure in a marriage, with a young child. Rip goes to live with them, and spends the rest of his life in happiness and comfort, free from a nagging wife.
What makes this particular edition so special is that it contains the extraordinary artwork of Arthur Rackham. Rackham's works have a trademark style of highly detailed and fanciful figures (often humorous), in tones of sepia and umber, with little snatches of other colors thrown in. Rackham's art never fails to impress and amaze me, and this collection is sublime. I have included a smattering of the 51 plates included here. Please note: the images on this page are from online sources. I thought that would be less distorting than photographing pages in the book with my digital camera.