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Rip Van Winkle

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Rip Van Winkle

"Rip Van Winkle" is a short story by American author Washington Irving published in 1819. 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's title character is a Dutch-American villager living around the time of the American Revolutionary War.



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 Dutch villager. Van Winkle enjoys solitary activities in the wilderness or hanging out at the inn with his friends. He is also loved by all in town—especially the children to whom he tells stories or repairs their 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 Hollands 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. During Rip's return, an election had just taken place, and people are asking Rip how he voted. Never having cast a ballot in his life, Rip proclaims himself a faithful subject of King George III, not aware that the American Revolution has taken place, and nearly gets himself into trouble with the townspeople until one elderly woman recognizes him as the long lost Rip van Winkle. King George's portrait on the inn's sign has been replaced with one of George Washington. Rip learns the unfortunate fact that most of his friends were killed fighting in the American Revolution. He is also disturbed to find another man called Rip Van Winkle. It is his son, now grown up. Rip also discovers that his wife died some time ago, but is not saddened by the news.

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. He finds that he has been away from the village for at least twenty years. His grown daughter takes him in. He resumes his usual idleness, and his strange tale is solemnly taken to heart by the Dutch settlers, particularly by the children who say that whenever thunder is heard, the men in the mountains must be playing ninepins. The henpecked husbands in the area often wish they could have a sip of Rip's elixir to sleep through their own wives' nagging.

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.

Literary forerunners

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. The theme of independence is also explored; the young Rip lives in British America and is a subject of the King; the old Rip awakes in a country independent of the Crown. On a personal level, Rip after awakening also gains another form of "independence"; being widowered from his shrewish wife.

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 similar to the German folktale "Peter Klaus" by Johann Karl Christoph Nachtigal, which is a shorter story set in a German village.

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.

The story is also similar to a 3rd-century AD Chinese tale of Ranka, as retold by Lionel Giles in A Gallery of Chinese Immortals, and an 8th-century Japanese tale, "Urashima Tarō".

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. Once, in a battle, the Devas (deities) were threatened by the Asuras. 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 long time 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, in cartoons, films, an operetta, and stage plays.

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.

The American composer George Whitefield Chadwick wrote a concert overture entitled Rip Van Winkle in 1879 when he was a student in Leipzig.

Composer Ferde Grofe spent 20 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 Nicholas Vedder and Derrick Van Bummel were given more importance.

The story was also parodied in the Laurel and Hardy cartoon series, in an episode entitled "Flipped Van Winkles".

Rip Van Winkle, a claymation version of the story produced and directed by Will Vinton in 1978, was nominated for an Academy Award for Short Subject Animation.

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.

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.

An episode of the HBO show Happily Ever After: Fairy Tales For Every Child retells 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, whereupon Rip is a heavy metal rocker who oft neglects his wife and child.


A character in the novel Darkness at Noon (1940) is nicknamed Rip Van Winkle because he spent 20 years in prison in solitary confinement.

The story is recounted by way of parable by the title hero of Max Frisch's novel I'm Not Stiller (1954).

Cartoons and animated films

The cartoon Have You Got Any Castles? (1938) depicts Rip Van Winkle sleeps in a cuckoo clock.

The animated short "Popeye Meets Rip Van Winkle" (1941), features Popeye and Rip Van Winkle.

The story 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.


In the Carl Barks comic Rip Van Donald (1950), the nephews of Donald Duck trick him into believing that he has been sleeping for forty years, supposedly waking up in the then-future year of 1990. Donald expects to see a fabulous "futuristic" world, and the nephews must use various tricks to keep their prank going. After hallucinating a psychedelic cityscape under the influence of ether, Donald falls asleep and is "back in 1950" when he wakes up again.

Issue #305 of Walt Disney's Comics and Stories (Gold Key), Vol. 26, No. 5, cover date February 1, 1966, presented a parody called "Rip van Goofy", with Goofy portraying the character who sleeps for twenty years. When he awakens, no one remembers him except Mickey Mouse, once a child to whom Rip van Goofy told fantasy stories, but now grown up.

In a 1988 issue of Boys' Life, the 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.


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.


In the Belle and Sebastian song "I Could Be Dreaming" an extract from "Rip Van Winkle" is read.

David Bromberg's mournful song "Kaatskill Serenade" on How Late'll Ya Play 'Til? tells the story from Rip's point of view.

The Moldy Peaches' 2001 eponymous album features the song "The Ballad Of Helen Keller & Rip Van Winkle."

The band Ween's second album features a song called "Sketches Of Winkle" that seems to draw on the story for its lyrics.

Film and television

In the 16th episode of The Famous Adventures of Mr. Magoo, which originally aired on January 16, 1965, Mr. Magoo (voiced by Jim Backus) plays Rip Van Winkle.

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.

Tales of Washington Irving, a one-hour animated television special from 1970, presented adaptations of The Legend of Sleepy Hollow and Rip Van Winkle.

In the Doctor Who episode "Sleep No More", people who refuse to use sleep-accelerating technology are called "Rips", referring to Rip Van Winkle.

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.


Rip Van Winkle Wikipedia

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