Saturday, October 22, 2011

The Best Literary Halloween Horse: Washington Irving's GUNPOWDER

Hey, my wife and I owned horses for years and we still consider ourselves to be horse people; and I used to follow that remark with the news that I would once again be the rear end of the costume next Halloween.

Some things never change.

My favorite horse when I was six years old is still my favorite Halloween horse.  Walt Disney's show opened slowly.  He would go to his library and return with some big old volume and open it.  Then the television program would finally begin in earnest, right after the crummy commercial, when he showed us the title:  Washington Irving's The Legend of Sleepy Hollow.

To me, this was what Halloween was all about, candy aside:  Ichabod and his horse being funny, scared out of their wits one minute and laughing themselves silly the next.  Only to be scared once again and in hysterical flight from the headless horseman through the dark woods.

Later I read the story.  Disney had improved upon almost everything, but that horse, Gunpowder, still had significant and endearingly comic potential.  Washington Irving wrote:

"The animal he bestrode was a broken-down plow horse that had outlived almost everything but his viciousness. He was gaunt and shagged, with an ewe neck and a head like a hammer. His rusty mane and tail were tangled and knotted with burrs; one eye had lost a pupil and was glaring and spectral; but the other eye had the gleam of a genuine devil in it."

"Still he must have had fire and mettle in his day, if we may judge from his name, which was Gunpowder."

There are two versions of the Walt Disney classic, the full version and a hokey abbreviated version with some of the best Gunpowder plot scenes removed and the snipped version repackaged with some more toady fare with dubious Halloween connections.  Also the narration differs greatly.  Be sure to get the original full version.

Likewise, there are different versions of the music.  I certainly enjoy Bing Crosby's voice but the jazziest, scariest, funniest, most adult, most delightful rendition of the Headless Horseman theme song was released back in the day by Jean Stafford.  We listen to it every year on our Halloween soundtrack:

"You can't reason with a headless man."

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