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Rip Van Winkle by Washington Irving

Although I, and I'm sure most other people, have heard of Rip van Winkle I wonder how many of us know the full story behind the name. The only thing I knew was that he slept for a hundred years, which he didn't, so it seems the only thing I thought I knew was wrong. Rip Van Winkle was written by Washington Irving and first published in 1819 in The Sketch Book of Geoffrey Crayon, Gent. The story is introduced as being a tale found among the papers of Irving's fictional historian Diedrich Knickerbocker, a gentleman who was very interested in the local Dutch history.

The tale is set in the Kaatskill Mountains, part of the Appalachian range of mountains in the USA.

Rip van Winkle lived in a small village, at the foot of these mountains, that had been originally founded by Dutch colonists. Rip was a popular fellow with his neighbours, whom he would willingly help, and a great friend to the village children as he entertained them but at home he was always too idle to do any work on his own small holding and was a hen-pecked husband. Might the two be connected I wonder? Anyway one day after a particularly fierce hen-pecking Rip set off with his gun, and his dog Wolf, for a walk up into the mountains. After a long ramble he settled himself down for a rest and he admired the beautiful scenery around him. As the sun lowered in the sky Rip thought he'd better make his way home and face Dame van Winkle. As he set off he heard a voice calling his name but he could not see anyone. Wolf bristled and looked down the mountain, Rip looked in the same direction and could see a small figure in the distance carrying a heavy load. Rip did not recognise him but went to offer help. A closer look at the figure revealed a stocky chap in antique Dutch clothing with a bushy beard. He gestured to Rip to help him carry the keg of liquor, which he duly did. No words were spoken as they took turns to carry the keg.

Every so often Rip heard a noise like thunder and as they arrived at a clearing the source of the noise became apparent. A group of men in old fashioned Dutch clothing were playing nine-pins and the rumbling came from the balls rolling. They stopped as Rip and his companion approached. The liquor was poured into flagons and gestures were made to Rip to serve the players. After drinking they resumed their game and Rip decided to try the drink. He was thirsty so one drink led to another until Rip couldn't keep his eyes open and fell into a deep sleep.

When Rip awoke it was morning and his first thought was 'how will I explain this to my wife'. He had a vague recollection of the keg of liquor and the men he had met. He reached for his gun but found only the rusty remains of a gun like his. Wolf had disappeared but he'd probably gone off hunting. On moving Rip realised that he was as stiff as could be, his joints didn't want to move. Eventually he managed to set off back down the mountain. As he neared his village he met a few people but strangely didn't recognise any of them, he found this odd as he thought he knew all his neighbours. There were new houses and he wondered how these could have appeared overnight. He eventually neared his own house and prepared himself for a tongue lashing but what he found was a ruin. Rushing back into the village he was soon enveloped in a crowd due to his unusual appearance of ragged clothes and a long bushy beard. Questions were fired at him about things he didn't understand. He asked if anyone knew his old friends from the village but all had died many years earlier. Rip overheard a young woman call her baby Rip, he asked her name and was told Judith Gardenier, so he asked her father's name? Rip van Winkle she said 'but it's twenty years since he left home one day and never came back'. Rip told Judith that he was her long lost father and that he didn't know what had happened somehow one night had become twenty years. His identity was confirmed by an old woman in the crowd who recognised him.

Making his way up the road towards the group was old Peter Vanderdonk, a descendant of a local historian. He remembered Rip and was able to tell everyone that the Kaatskill mountains had always been haunted by strange beings. Hendrick Hudson, the discoverer of the river and country, revisited every twenty years with his crew to keep an eye on both the river and city which bore his name. To this day any thunder heard in the Kaatskill mountains is thought to be from a game of nine-pins played by Hudson and his crew.

Rip lived happily for the rest of his life with his daughter and family, he continued to idle away his time doing nothing in particular apart from relating his tale to anyone he met.

The tale of Rip Van Winkle has been illustrated by many illustrators over the years so I have chosen a selection, to accompany this article, from the books we currently have in stock.

Contributed by Lorna

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