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He was the greatest American writer of his time: mentor to Poe, Dickens, and Hawthorne, his country’s first professional author, and a writer of uniqely American ghost stories about growth, change, and identity. His was the complex personality of an existentially anxious, emotionally complex man disturbed by his fame and haunted by loneliness. These disquieting themes course through his Gothic tales – “The Legend of Sleepy Hollow,” “Rip Van Winkle,” “The Devil and Tom Walker,” and more – tales haunted by spectres of anxiety.
Though he was once more famous for his social satires and ironic humor, Irving’s fictional oeuvre is primarily devoted to speculative fiction: ghost stories, weird tales, fantasies, and horror. And there’s far more than the Headless Horseman to frighten readers: ghost pirates, vengeful Doppelgangers, guillotined women, haunted treasure chests, hanged men’s ghosts, rural superstitions, dancing furniture, portraits with moving eyes, hellhounds, goblin horses, enchanted princesses, supernatural caves of wonder, haunted paintings, ghostly nuns, spectral crusaders, and possessed bedchambers are among his many bogeys.
His universe is among the sunniest in horror fiction – brighter certainly than Le Fanu’s, Hodgson’s, or Stoker’s – but its sunnyside hides a dark posterior, engulfed in shadow and swallowed up in night. Irving is the very definition of one who whistles past a graveyard, bringing sangfroid into spaces of anxiety and self-doubt, and while his characters are grotesque, bordering on the burlesque – like the spindly Ichabod Crane, the bearded Rip Van Winkle, or the leather-trousered Bold Dragoon – they cannot entirely hide the very real fears that they represent. Irving’s horrors aren’t likely to make you jump, but they might just keep you awake, or fill your waking life with strange dreams. At its kindest, Irving’s world is one of narcotic daydreams that seduce and intoxicate; at its worst, it is waking up later that night – alone, confused, and hungover. His fantasies are pleasantly seductive, but like Rip Van Winkle’s “wicked flagon,” they also have a powerful bite.
TALES INCLUDED in this ANNOTATED EDITION:
The Legend of Sleepy Hollow | Wolfert's Roost | Rip Van Winkle
St. Mark's Eve | The Spectre Bridegroom
The Hunting Dinner | The Adventure of My Uncle | Adv. of My Aunt
Adv. of My Grandfather | Adv. of the German Student
Guests from Gibbet Island | The Haunted House | Dolph Heyliger
The Storm Ship | The Devil and Tom Walker | Golden Dreams | Don Juan
The Grand Prior of San Minorca | The Mason's Adventure
The Arabian Astrologer | The Two Discreet Statues
The Moor's Legacy | Don Munio de Hinojosa
The Engulfed Convent