Rip Van Winkle
"Rip Van Winkle" is a short story by American author Washington Irving published in 1819 as well as the name of the story's fictional protagonist. Written while Irving was living in Birmingham, England, it was part of a collection entitled The Sketch Book of Geoffrey Crayon, Gent.. Although the story is set in New York's Catskill Mountains, Irving later admitted, "When I wrote the story, I had never been on the Catskills."
The story of Rip Van Winkle is set in the years before and after the American Revolutionary War. In a pleasant village, at the foot of New York's Catskill Mountains, lives the kindly Rip Van Winkle, a colonial British-American villager of Dutch descent. Rip is an amiable man who enjoys solitary activities in the wilderness, but is also loved by all in town—especially the children to whom he tells stories and gives toys. However, a tendency to avoid all gainful labor, for which his nagging wife (Dame Van Winkle) chastises him, allows his home and farm to fall into disarray due to his lazy neglect.
One autumn day, Rip is escaping his wife's nagging, wandering up the mountains with his dog, Wolf. Hearing his name being shouted, Rip discovers that the speaker is a man dressed in antiquated Dutch clothing, carrying a keg up the mountain, who requires Rip's help. Without exchanging words, the two hike up to an amphitheatre-like hollow in which Rip discovers the source of previously-heard thunderous noises: there is a group of other ornately-dressed, silent, bearded men who are playing nine-pins. Although there is no conversation and Rip does not ask the men who they are or how they know his name, he discreetly begins to drink some of their liquor, and soon falls asleep.
He awakes in unusual circumstances: It seems to be morning, his gun is rotted and rusty, his beard has grown a foot long, and Wolf is nowhere to be found. Rip returns to his village where he finds that he recognizes no one. Asking around, he discovers that his wife has died and that his close friends have died in a war or gone somewhere else. He immediately gets into trouble when he proclaims himself a loyal subject of King George III, not knowing that the American Revolution has taken place; George III's portrait on the town inn has been replaced by that of George Washington. Rip is also disturbed to find another man is being called Rip Van Winkle (though this is in fact his son, who has now grown up).
The men he met in the mountains, Rip learns, are rumored to be the ghosts of Hendrick (Henry) Hudson's crew. Rip is told that he has apparently been away from the village for twenty years. An old local recognizes Rip and Rip's now-adult daughter takes him in. Rip resumes his habitual idleness, and his tale is solemnly taken to heart by the Dutch settlers, with other hen-pecked husbands, after hearing his story, wishing they could share in Rip's good luck, and have the luxury of sleeping through the hardships of war.
Characters in the story of Rip Van Winkle
- Rip Van Winkle – a henpecked husband who loathes 'profitable labor'.
- Dame Van Winkle – Rip Van Winkle's cantankerous wife.
- Rip Van Winkle Jr.– Rip Van Winkle's son.
- Judith Gardenier – Rip Van Winkle's daughter.
- Derrick Van Bummel – the local schoolmaster and later a member of Congress.
- Nicholas Vedder – landlord of the local inn.
- Mr. Doolittle – a hotel owner.
- Wolf – Rip's faithful dog
- The Ghosts of Henry Hudson and his crew – Ghosts that share purple magic liquor with van Winkle and play a game of ninepins.
Composition and publication history
After a failed business venture with his brothers, Irving filed for bankruptcy in 1818. Despondent, he turned to writing for possible financial support, though he had difficulty thinking of stories to write. He stayed in Birmingham, England with his brother-in-law Henry Van Wart. The two were reminiscing in June 1818 when Irving was suddenly inspired by their nostalgic conversation. Irving locked himself in his room and wrote non-stop all night. As he said, he felt like a man waking from a long sleep. He presented the first draft of "Rip Van Winkle" to the Van Wart family over breakfast.
"Rip Van Winkle" was one of the first stories Irving proposed for his new book, The Sketch Book of Geoffrey Crayon, Gent.. Irving asked his brother Ebeneezer to assist with publication in the United States. As Irving wrote, "I shall feel very anxious to hear of the success of this first re-appearance on the literary stage – Should it be successful, I trust I shall be able henceforth to keep up an occasional fire." 2000 copies of the first octavo-sized installment which included "Rip Van Winkle" were released on June 23, 1819, in New York, Boston, Baltimore, and Philadelphia, published by Cornelius S. Van Winkle and sold at a somewhat expensive 75 cents. A British edition was published shortly after by John Miller, who went out of business immediately after. With help from friend Walter Scott, Irving was able to convince John Murray to take over British publication of the Sketch Book.
The story is also similar to the ancient Jewish story about Honi M'agel who falls asleep after asking a man why he is planting a carob tree which traditionally takes 70 years to mature, making it virtually impossible to ever benefit from the tree's fruit. After this exchange, he falls asleep on the ground and is miraculously covered by a rock and remains out of sight for 70 years. When he awakens, he finds a fully mature tree and that he has a grandson. When nobody believes that he is Honi, he prays to God and God takes him from this world.
In Christian tradition there is the well-known story of "The Seven Sleepers of Ephesus", recounting a group of early Christians who hid in a cave about 250 AD, to escape the persecution of Christians during the reign of the Roman emperor Decius, fell into a miraculous sleep and woke some 200 years later during the reign of Theodosius II, to discover that the city and the whole Empire had become Christian. This Christian story is recounted by Islam and appears in a famous Sura of the Koran, Sura Al-Kahf. The story recalls a group of young monotheists escaping from persecution within a cave and emerging hundreds of years later. Irving, who wrote a biography of the Prophet Muhammad, may have been familiar with the story.
In Orkney there is a similar folktale linked to the burial mound of Salt Knowe adjacent to the Ring of Brodgar. A drunken fiddler on his way home hears music from the mound. He finds a way in and finds the trowes (Trolls) having a party. He stays and plays for two hours, then makes his way home to Stenness, where he discovers fifty years have passed. The Orkney Rangers believe this may be one source for Washington Irving's tale, because his father was an Orcadian from the island of Shapinsay and would almost certainly have known the tale.
In Ireland, the story of Niamh and Oisin has a similar theme. Oisin falls in love with the beautiful Niamh and leaves with her on her snow white horse to Tir Na nOg – the land of the ever-young. Missing his family and friends, he asks to pay them a visit. Niamh lends him her horse, warning him never to dismount, and he travels back to Ireland. But three hundred years have passed; his family and fellow warriors are all dead. Some men are trying to move a boulder. Oisin reaches down to help them. The girth of the horse's saddle snaps and he falls to the ground. Before the watching eyes of the men he becomes a very, very old man.
Diogenes Laertius, an Epicurean philosopher of the third century, includes the story of Epimenides in his book On the Lives, Opinions, and Sayings of Famous Philosophers, in chapter ten in his section on the Seven Sages of Greece, precursors to the first philosophers. The sage Epimenides is said to have slept in a cave for fifty-seven years. But unfortunately, "he became old in as many days as he had slept years". Although according to the different sources that Diogenes relates, Epimenides lived to be one hundred and fifty-seven years, two hundred and ninety-nine years, or one hundred and fifty-four years old.
The oldest such motif seems to be found in India. In Bhagavatam, there is a story of Muchukunda, King of Ikshavaku dynasty, who slept for a long long time. According to Hinduism, Muchukunda was an ancestor of Sri Rama. Muchukunda had helped Indra fight against Asuras (demons). Once, in a battle, the Devas (deities) were threatened by the Asuras(demons). The Gods sought help from king Muchukunda. King Muchukunda agreed to help them and fought against the demons for a long time. Since the deities did not have an able commander, king Muchukunda protected them against the demonic onslaught, until the deities got an able commander like Kartikeya, the son of Lord Shiva. Then Indra said to the king Muchukunda, "O king, we, the deities are indebted to you for the help and protection which you have given us, by sacrificing your own family life. Here in the heaven, one year equals three hundred and sixty years of the earth. Since, it has been a long time, there is no sign of your kingdom and family because it has been destroyed with the passage of time. We are happy and pleased with you, so ask for any boon except Moksha (liberation) because Moksha(liberation) is beyond our capacities". Muchukunda asks Indra for a boon to sleep. While fighting on the side of the deities, king Muchukunda did not get an opportunity to sleep even for a moment. Now, since his responsibilities were over, overcome by tiredness, he was feeling very sleepy. So, he said, "O King of the deities, I want to sleep. Anyone who dares to disturb my sleep should get burnt to ashes immediately". Indra said, "So be it, go to the earth and enjoy your sleep, one who awakens you would be reduced to ashes". After this, king Muchukunda descended to earth and selected a cave, where he could sleep without being disturbed. A lot of time had passed during his sleeping years. Finally, Sri Krishna lured Kalayavana into the cave where Muchukunda was sleeping. Kalayavana inadvertently woke up Muchukunda and was burnt to ashes when Muchukunda's gaze fell upon him. Then, Muchukunda came out of the cave. He was astonished to see the size of various beings. The size of all creatures had shrunken due to evolution during the longtime that he was alseep. Then Muchukunda went to north to Gandamadana Mountain and from there to Badrika Ashrama. The difference between Rip Van Winkle's story and Muchukunda's story is that Rip Van Winkle escaped fighting the war for independence as he was asleep, but Muchukunda slept after having participated in the war. Another difference is that Rip Van Winkle was separated from his family and friends due to the sleep. Muchukunda was separated from his family and friends due to war. Finally, Rip Van Winkle did not plan for the sleep. On the other hand, Muchukunda's sleep was voluntary.
The story has been adapted for other media for the last two centuries, from stage plays to an operetta to cartoons to films.
Actor Joseph Jefferson was most associated with the character on the 19th century stage and made a series of short films in 1896 recreating scenes from his stage adaptation, and which are collectively in the U.S. National Film Registry. Jefferson's son, Thomas, followed in his father's footsteps and played the character in a number of early 20th century films.
Composer Ferde Grofe spent twenty years working on a symphonic tone poem based on Rip Van Winkle, eventually reworking the material into his Hudson River Suite. One of the movements is entitled "Rip Van Winkle" and is a musical depiction of the story.
The 1960s Tale Spinners For Children record series included a dramatization of the Rip van Winkle story in which the name of Rip's daughter was changed to "Katrina" and the characters of Nicholas Vedder and Derrick Van Bummel were given more importance.
The story also inspired an episode of The Flintstones entitled "Rip Van Flintstone", which originally aired on November 5, 1965. In it, Fred falls asleep at the Slate Company Picnic and dreams he has awakened in Bedrock twenty years in the future, now a city with a population of 30,000. Besides a change in his personal appearance (Fred has grown a long beard, his hair has turned white and he needs a cane) he first finds out that Slate Company has gone out of business. Fred has been presumed dead and is now alone and forgotten; Barney has become a rich oil tycoon and Wilma has become a bitter old widow. The only one to remember him is his daughter Pebbles, now a full-grown woman who has married Bamm Bamm. Betty is mentioned in the dream sequence but not seen, implying that she has died. At one point during the episode, he even says, "Maybe I have fallen asleep for twenty years like in that Rip Van Winklestone story." However, Fred suddenly wakes up young again, realizing he was only momentarily dreaming.
The story was also parodied in the Laurel and Hardy cartoon series in an episode entitled "Flipped Van Winkles".
A claymation version of the story was produced and directed by Will Vinton in 1978 and was nominated for an Academy Award Nomination for Short Subject Animation. The animated film was named Rip Van Winkle.
In the Faerie Tale Theatre children's television series hosted by Shelley Duvall in the 1980s, Francis Ford Coppola directed the episode "Rip Van Winkle" in which the Hollywood actor Harry Dean Stanton played the title role.
A 1988 issues of Boys' Life, with its "Dink & Duff" comic strip has the African-American Cub Scout Dink pondering the meaning of Americanism, only to lapse into a coma and awaken in 2068, although he still has not grown up. He is greeted by a boy who addresses him as "Rip van Dinkle", who tells him that in the 80 years that have passed the United States of America has been defuncted and is now the "Royal Dominion of America", or R.D.A., a monarchy under a "King Kongoon". Dink is appalled by the heavy regulations he is now subject to, such as only being allowed to wear the official R.D.A. uniform instead of his Cub Scout uniform or only being allowed to eat vegetables in order to contribute to a "healthy society". Dink is shocked awake back to 1988 realizing it was only a nightmare, but with a better understanding of personal liberty.
There is also an episode of the HBO show Happily Ever After: Fairy Tales For Every Child. They retold popular fairy tales by setting them in different cultures and settings and featuring voices provided by celebrities. For Rip Van Winkle they did a Feminist retelling of the story, given a 1960s twist, and told from the point of view of Rip's wife Vanna.
The TV show Wishbone showed the dog imagining himself as the title character, complete with the men playing ninepins and his mistaking the George Washington Inn for his old hangout of the King George Inn. It is set against the family meeting an elderly black woman who has not lived in her town since childhood, and her remarking at the change since her return makes her feel akin to Rip van Winkle.
In Popular Culture
The American stoner/doom metal Band Witch has a song called "Rip Van Winkle" on their debut record from 2006.
In the long-running NBC television series Law & Order's episode "Brother's Keeper" Rip van Winkle is mentioned by detective Lennie Briscoe. A worker of the driving range where a man was murdered was caught sleeping on the job, to his defense he says says he "was just gonna lie down for 5 minutes, take a little nap" to which Briscoe replies "yeah, a regular Rip van Winkle". The confused man asks "who?" to which Briscoe answers "another guy who took a little nap, woke up and didn't know where he was" after which the opening credits appear.
In the FOX television series Bones episode "The Maggots in the Meathead" (Season 6), intern Colin Fisher reveals that while depressed, he slept 20 hours a day for two months. In a later scene he yawns in front of Dr. Hodgins, which prompts Dr. Hodgins to ask if he's okay. Colin Fisher's response is "are you going to ask me that every time I yawn?", to which D.r Hodgins sarcastically replies: "Possibly. I don't want you to fall asleep again for two months, Van Winkle".
- Pierre M. Irving, The Life and Letters of Washington Irving, G. P. Putnam's Sons, 1883, vol. 2, p. 176.
- Burstein, Andrew. The Original Knickerbocker: The Life of Washington Irving. New York: Basic Books, 2007: 117. ISBN 978-0-465-00853-7
- Jones, Brian Jay. Washington Irving: An American Original. New York: Arcade Books, 2008: 168. ISBN 978-1-55970-836-4
- Burstein, Andrew. The Original Knickerbocker: The Life of Washington Irving. New York: Basic Books, 2007: 125. ISBN 978-0-465-00853-7
- Jones, Brian Jay. Washington Irving: An American Original. New York: Arcade Books, 2008: 168–169. ISBN 978-1-55970-836-4
- Burstein, Andrew. The Original Knickerbocker: The Life of Washington Irving. New York: Basic Books, 2007: 120. ISBN 978-0-465-00853-7
- Jones, Brian Jay. Washington Irving: An American Original. New York: Arcade Books, 2008: 177–178. ISBN 978-1-55970-836-4
- Burstein, Andrew. The Original Knickerbocker: The Life of Washington Irving. New York: Basic Books, 2007: 149–150. ISBN 978-0-465-00853-7
-  Surat Al-Kahf (18:9-26) – The Holy Qur'an – القرآن الكريم
- Laertius, Diogenes: Lives of Eminent Philosophers: Books I-V, RD Hicks, trans., Cambridge: Harvard, 1972. p. 115
- Will Vinton's Personal Website
|Wikisource has original text related to this article:|
- "Rip Van Winkle", illustrated by N. C. Wyeth (1921).
- "Rip Van Winkle", e-text from Bartleby.
- "Rip Van Winkle", audio version from 1946.
- "Rip Van Winkle", 1896 film.
- "Karl Katz", a comparison.
- 1948 Theatre Guild on the Air radio adaptation at Internet Archive
- Rip Van Winkle Study Guide
- Irving in Birmingham
- "Rip Van Winkle" and "The Legend of Sleepy Hollow" – Irving's Fictions of Revolution