Rip Van Winkle is the name of the main character and title of a book by Washington Irving. It was published in 1819, part of a collection entitled The Sketch Book of Geoffrey Crayon, Gent which also featured his other famous short story The Legend of Sleepy Hollow.
Irving was born in 1783 in New York and died at the age of 76 in 1859. He was an American author, essayist, biographer and historian, writing mostly fiction, biographies and short stories. He began his writing career at 19 as a journalist and never stopped, writing under many different pseudonyms.
While travelling up the Hudson River, he collected material for several stories, including Rip Van Winkle. He met writer Sir Walter Scott in London who encouraged him to write the Sketch Book. It was highly successful, and after its publication Irving was called the inventor of the modern short story.
Now, what exactly is the story about? In short, Rip Van Winkle was a man who didn’t do any work around his own house, but was always ready to help out others. When his wife would nag him, he would escape to the Catskills Mountains with his dog Wolf. One day, he helps out a little, oddly dressed man carry a barrel, probably filled with alcohol. They walk up the mountain and meet up with a few of the man’s friends who are playing a form of bowling. Rip joins them in a few drinks, and eventually falls asleep in the clearing. He wakes up later, his gun replaced by an old rusty riffle, the men nowhere to be seen, his dog gone, and him feeling oddly stiff. He goes back down to the village, only to discover everything has changed. He finds his son and daughter all grown up, his wife dead, his house in shambles and most of his friends long gone. It becomes clear that he has slept for 20 years, and was mostly forgotten by the town. In the end, his daughter recognises him, and he spends the rest of his life living with her.
Crazy story right? Though I must admit, there have been days that I wish I could have slept through. Like the day right before you leave on vacation, or a difficult exam, sitting through a number of boring speeches, being stuck in an airport because of a delayed flight, …
Since its publication, Rip Van Winkle has been adapted into plays, movies, poems, music, cartoons, … you name it! If you want to discover all of them, check out the Wikipedia page. I’ll list my favourites here:
- In 1956, Flinstones episode Rip Van Flinstone was about Fred falling asleep and dreaming about waking up 20 years later. Barney had become a rich oil tycoon, Wilma a bitter old widow and Pebbles full-grown and married to Bamm Bamm.
- Cartoon character Popeye meets up with Van Winkle in the 1941 short Rip Popeye meets Van Winkle.
- In FOX’ TV show Fringe, a main character returns from an alternate universe and states “I feel like Rip Van Winkle. Everything is different.”
- The story is even referenced in a Doctor Who episode, where people who refuse to use sleep-accelerating technology are called “Rips”.
So have you read the Rip Van Winkle story? Or seen/read/heard it in some other form? Be sure to let me know in the comments.