The Adventures of Ichabod and Mr. Toad (1949) was one of many underappreciated Disney films created, and one that I remember fondly from my childhood. If it wasn’t apparent by the title, this children’s film focuses on the retelling of two famous literary tales, and one of them highlights the story of Ichabod Crane, the legend of Sleepy Hollow, and the Headless Horseman. This Disney film was my first exposure to this famous tale, and therefore a huge reason why I picked up Alyssa Palombo’s The Spellbook of Katrina Van Tassel: A Story of Sleepy Hollow.
The story is told through the eyes of Katrina Van Tassel, Ichabod’s love from the original classic, and her journey in meeting Ichabod, falling for him, and desperately trying to figure out the cause of his disappearance, all while realizing that the legend of Sleepy Hollow and the Headless Horseman may not be as fictional as it once seemed.
While this story may deviate from the narrative of the original regarding the character perspective, the original tale is certainly not lost here. Katrina Van Tassel meets Ichabod Crane when he arrives to the small town of Sleepy Hollow to seek work as a schoolteacher, and finds himself living at her parents’ lodging. Katrina and Ichabod grow close given their passion for mutual interests such as music, and fall in love. However, Katrina’s father would surely not approve of her affair with Ichabod since he is a mere schoolteacher, and worries that she’ll be promised to Brom Van Brunt, her current enemy and the suitor her father desires for her.
Ichabod’s disappearance as endured by Katrina is a story that I never realized my literary heart needed, and Katrina is a character I never knew I needed more of. Palombo does a wonderful job in shaping Katrina into a character that had depth, who was beautiful but still riddled with flaws. This is a stark contrast to the woman I knew from the Disney adaption, who was posed as more of a trophy to be won by either Ichabod or Brom; this Katrina is her own woman, but she is also a woman in love. The Spellbook of Katrina Van Tassel is packed with the concept of historical romance and legends of that era, and it doesn’t quite dive into the supernatural elements that we come to associate with this tale. Yet, that what makes this novel so good in its own right; her relationship with Brom, the “right” path she’s encouraged to follow, and even the Headless Horseman tale fall second to the primary focus of the tale: the devotion between Ichabod and Katrina.
Classic literature and modern retellings of them have always been a fascination of mine, and I was instantly drawn toward Palombo’s adaption of the Sleepy Hollow tale, much more so once I found that this novel would be told through the point of view of Katrina Van Tassel. I enjoy when a story is approached from a different perspective, and commend Palombo for trying – and succeeding – to recreate the tale of Sleepy Hollow by using Katrina’s narrative during and following the events that led to Ichabod’s disappearance by the Headless Horseman. Intertwining the historical influence of the classic piece, the romance between Ichabod and Katrina, and the terror of Sleepy Hollow, this is certainly a story that you should pick up this season.
Alyssa Palombo’s The Spellbook of Katrina Van Tassel: A Story of Sleepy Hollow is now available for purchase.