Rip Van Winkle

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Rip Van Winkle is a short story by Washington Irving, first published in his Sketch-Book in 1819-20, about a man who falls asleep in the Catskill Mountains of pre-Revolutionary New York and only re-awakens 20 years later to discover that both he and the world about him have completely changed. The story itself is based on a German folk tale which Irving encountered while in Europe. It is often regarded as the first American short story and proved so popular at the time, and since, that the name of the principal character has entered the American lexicon.

The story is fictionally attributed to Diedrich Knickerbocker, Irving's literary invention whom he also employed as the supposed author of his History of New York.

Story summary

Rip Van Winkle lived in a small village in the Hudson River valley in upstate New York. He was a simple, good-natured fellow who loved to spend long, lazy days conversing with the other villagers in front of the village inn and going on long forays into the nearby Catskill Mountains with his hunting rifle and his dog Wolf. His wife regarded him as lazy and shiftless. For his part, Rip thought her to be shrewish.

One day, Rip went off into the Catskills with his dog and, with dusk approaching, had just started on his way back home when he heard someone calling out his name. He espied a small, dwarf-like creature and, following him through a cleft in the mountains, he entered a hollow where he came upon a number of similar folk, all dressed in the archaic Dutch fashion of previous times, solomnly playing at nine-pins. Watching their sport, he imbibes a large quantity of their drink and falls asleep.

Upon awakening, thinking that he has slept through the night until the next morning, Rip discovers that his rifle is rusted, with the wooden stock badly decayed, and his dog missing. Nor can he find any evidence of the previous evening's revellries, nor even the mountain cleft or the hollow. Eventually, he finds his way back to his native village, only to discover that it is wonderfully changed. New houses have sprung up, old ones are gone, and his own house and farm are in decay and ruin. He recognizes none of the people he meets, nor they he. After much confusion and some misunderstanding, it is finally realized that Rip has slept for 20 years, including straight through the American Revolution. An ancient inhabitant of the village, well-versed in the history of the area, including its Dutch heritage, affirms that the Catskill Mountains are inhabited by strange beings and that Rip has most likely encountered Henry Hudson and his crew.