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 kindly Rip Van Winkle, a colonial British-American villager of Dutch ancestry. Van Winkle enjoys solitary activities in the wilderness, but he is also loved by all in town—especially the children to whom he tells stories and gives toys. However, he tends to shirk hard work, to his nagging wife's dismay, which has caused his home and farm to fall into disarray.
One autumn day, to escape his wife's nagging, Van Winkle wanders up the mountains with his dog, Wolf. Hearing his name called out, Rip sees a man wearing antiquated Dutch clothing; he is carrying a keg up the mountain and requires help. Together, they proceed to a hollow in which Rip discovers the source of thunderous noises: a group of ornately dressed, silent, bearded men who are playing nine-pins. Rip does not ask who they are or how they know his name. Instead, he begins to drink some of their moonshine and soon falls asleep.
He awakes to discover shocking changes. His musket is rotting and rusty, his beard is a foot long, and his dog is nowhere to be found. Van Winkle returns to his village where he recognizes no one. He discovers that his wife has died and that his close friends have fallen in a war or moved away. He gets into trouble when he proclaims himself a loyal subject of King George III, not aware that the American Revolution has taken place. King George's portrait in the inn has been replaced with one of George Washington. Rip Van Winkle is also disturbed to find another man called Rip Van Winkle. It is his son, now grown up.
Rip Van Winkle learns that the men he met in the mountains are rumored to be the ghosts of Hendrick (Henry) Hudson's crew, which had vanished long ago. Rip learns he has been away from the village for at least twenty years. However, an old resident recognizes him and Rip's grown daughter takes him in. He resumes his usual idleness, and his strange tale is solemnly taken to heart by the Dutch settlers. Other henpecked men wish they could have shared in Rip's good luck and had the luxury of sleeping through the hardships of the American Revolution.
Characters in the story of Rip Van Winkle
|Rip Van Winkle||A henpecked husband who loathes 'profitable labor'. Meek, easygoing, ne'er-do-well resident of the village who wanders off to the mountains and meets strange men playing ninepins.|
|Dame Van Winkle||Rip Van Winkle's cantankerous and nagging wife.|
|Rip Van Winkle, Jr.||Rip Van Winkle's ne'er-do-well son.|
|Judith Gardenier||Rip Van Winkle's married daughter. She takes her father in after he returns from his sleep.|
|Derrick Van Bummel||The local schoolmaster and later a member of Congress.|
|Nicholas Vedder||Landlord of the local inn where menfolk congregate.|
|Van Schaick||The local parson.|
|Jonathan Doolittle||Owner of the Union Hotel, the establishment that replaced the village inn.|
|Wolf||Rip's faithful dog, who does not recognize him when he wakes up|
|Man carrying keg up the mountain||The ghost of Englishman Henry Hudson, explorer of the Hudson River.|
|Ninepin bowlers||The ghosts of Henry Hudson’s crewmen from his ship, the Half-Moon. They share purple magic liquor with Rip Van Winkle and play a game of ninepins.|
|Brom Dutcher||Neighbor of Rip who went off to war while Rip was sleeping.|
|Old woman||Woman who identifies Rip when he returns to the village after his sleep.|
|Peter Vanderdonk||The oldest resident of the village. He confirms Rip’s identity and cites evidence indicating Rip’s strange tale is true.|
|Mr. Gardenier||Judith Gardenier’s husband, a farmer and crabby villager.|
|Rip Van Winkle III||Rip Van Winkle’s infant grandchild. His mother is Judith Gardenier.|
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.
In many ways the story is a classic European faerie tale of a man who is actually rewarded for helping the faeries move their barrel. They advance him to a time in life where he is free of his nagging wife and is now old enough for it be respectable for him to take it easy and play with children, working when he wants to instead of when he has to, supported by his loving, grown children.
Author Joe Gioia suggests the basic plot strongly resembles, and may have originated with, an upstate New York Seneca legend of a young squirrel hunter who encounters the mystic "Little People", and after a night with them returns to his village to find it overgrown by forest and everyone gone: that single night had lasted a year.
The story is also similar to the ancient Jewish Talmudic 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". The tale recounts 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. They 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 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.
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 asleep. Then Muchukunda went to north to Gandamadana Mountain and from there to Badrika Ashrama where a famous Vishnu Temple is now located.
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.
In an episode of the anthology series The Twilight Zone entitled "The Rip Van Winkle Caper" (season 2, episode 24, original airdate April 21, 1961), four gold thieves place themselves into a state of suspended animation, figuring that when they emerge one hundred years later, the law will long since have forgotten about them, allowing them to spend their ill-gotten gains free and clear. Unfortunately, they awaken into a future world where scientists have developed a method for manufacturing gold, rendering their loot worthless.
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".
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 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 defunct 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.
Issue 12 of Classics illustrated fleshed out the Rip Van Winkle story with dialogue & incidents. Rip Van Winkle, trying to hunt for food, mistakes the family's last cow for a bear and shoots it. His wife drives him out of the house for that, and orders the children to never speak of their father again. The dwarves make violent threats to Rip, who is then told that the only way to redeem himself is to have a drinking contest with them. The drink puts him to sleep for 20 years.
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 2014, the web series Classic Alice adapted Rip van Winkle for four episodes. The titular character cuts class to recreate van Winkle's nap and finds she missed too much to catch up on, which makes her feel quite like Rip.
In popular culture
In the Belle and Sebastian song "I Could Be Dreaming" an extract from "Rip Van Winkle" is read.
The Phish song "The Sloth" contains the line: "Sleeping all day, (Rip Van Winklin')."
The band Ween's second album features a song called "Sketches Of Winkle" that seems to draw on the story for its lyrics.
In the Manga Hellsing, Van Winkle is portrayed as a young woman who uses a long musket that has seemingly magical bullets that follow its target.
The American stoner/doom metal Band Witch has a song called "Rip Van Winkle" on their debut record from 2006.
Doo-Wop Rock 'n Roll trio Shannon and the Clams have a song called "Rip Van Winkle" on their first LP, "Dreams in the Rat House"
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 defence he 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 Dr. Hodgins sarcastically replies: "Possibly. I don't want you to fall asleep again for two months, Van Winkle".
In a deleted scene from the ABC television series Once Upon a Time episode "Nasty Habits" (Season 3), Rumpelstiltskin chases down a man named Mr. Van Winkle to settle a deal with him. Van Winkle pleads mercy, claiming that he overslept, only for Rumpelstiltskin to curse him into a 100-year sleep. He takes a knife from the sleeping man and presents it to Baelfire as a gift.
In another Fox television series, Fringe, in the episode "The Firefly" (Season 3), main character, Olivia Dunham, after returning to her life from an alternate universe, states: "I feel like Rip Van Winkle. Everything is different."
In the Fox television medical drama series "House", in the episode "Cane and Abel" (Season 3), Cuddy tells House that his last patient woke up like Rip van Winkle after she injected him with the drug.
In the Indian media Rahul Gandhi Congress vice president has been compared to Rip van Winkle after his statement to cancel the ordinance to protect convicted lawmakers has been made, because he was silent like Rip was sleeping, when the debate/war on the issue was going on.
Mashup artist, V the Viper, made an album in 2013 loosely based on the character Rip Van Winkle.
A Rip Van Fish is a sleeping variety of Cheep Cheep found in Super Mario World. If Mario swims too close to a Rip Van Fish, it will awaken and begin to chase Mario.
- Old Rip Van Winkle
- Rip Van Wink from The Beano
- Rip van Winkle from Hellsing
- Rip Van Winkle Bridge
- Urashima Tarō
- 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
- Joe Gioia (2013). The Guitar and the New World: A Fugitive History. State University of New York Press. pp. 188–191. ISBN 978-1-4384-4617-2.
The story of the young hunter and the Great Little People, whose single night is that of a human year, became Irving's satire on progress and a portrait of the fundamental strangeness of change.
- Babylonian Talmud Taanit 23a Hebrew/Aramaic text at Mechon-Mamre
- "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
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- "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
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