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Statue of Rip van Winkle in Irvington, New York, not far from "Sunnyside", the home of Washington Irving

"Rip Van Winkle" is a short story by American author Washington Irving published in 1819. Written while Irving was living in Birmingham, England, it is 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."[1] The story's title character is a Dutch-American villager living around the time of the American Revolutionary War.



"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 loved by all in town—especially the children to whom he tells stories or for whom he repairs 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 into the mountains with his dog, Wolf. Hearing his name called out, Van Winkle sees a man wearing antiquated Dutch clothing; he is carrying a keg up the mountain and requires help. Together, the men and Wolf 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.

Van Winkle 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.

When he awakens, Van Winkle discovers shocking changes: his musket is rotting and rusty, his beard is a foot long, and his dog is nowhere to be found. He returns to his village, where he recognizes no one.

Van Winkle returns just after an election, and people are asking how he voted. Never having cast a ballot in his life, Van Winkle proclaims himself a faithful subject of King George III's, unaware 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. Van Winkle 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. Van Winkle also discovers that his wife died some time ago but is not saddened by the news.

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, and that he has been away from the village for at least 20 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 nine-pins. The henpecked husbands in the area often wish they could have a sip of Van Winkle's elixir to sleep through their own wives' nagging.


Name Description
Rip Van Winkle A henpecked husband who loathes "profitable labor"; and a meek, easygoing, ne'er-do-well resident of the village who wanders off to the mountains and meets strange men playing nine-pins
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 who went on to serve in American Revolution as a flag officer 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 Van Winkle's faithful dog, who does not recognize him when he wakes up
Man carrying keg up the mountain The ghost of one of Henry Hudson's crew members
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 nine-pins
Brom Dutcher Van Winkle's neighbor who went off to war while Van Winkle was sleeping
Old woman Woman who identifies Van Winkle when he returns to the village after his sleep
Peter Vanderdonk The oldest resident of the village, who confirms Van Winkle's identity and cites evidence indicating Van Winkle'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 historyEdit

First installment of The Sketch Book of Geoffrey Crayon, Gent. included "Rip Van Winkle"

After a failed business venture with his brothers, Irving filed for bankruptcy in 1818.[2] Despondent, he turned to writing for possible financial support, although he had difficulty thinking of stories to write. He stayed in Birmingham, England with his brother-in-law Henry Van Wart.[3] The two were reminiscing in June 1818 when Irving was suddenly inspired by their nostalgic conversation.[4] 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.[5]

"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."[6] 2,000 copies of the first octavo-sized installment, which included "Rip Van Winkle", were released on June 23, 1819, in Baltimore, Boston, New York, and Philadelphia, published by Cornelius S. Van Winkle, and sold at a somewhat expensive 75 cents.[7] A British edition was published shortly afterward, by John Miller, who went out of business immediately thereafter. With help from his friend Walter Scott, Irving was able to convince John Murray to take over British publication of the Sketch Book.[8]

Themes and literary forerunnersEdit

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.[citation needed]

The theme of independence is also explored; the young Van Winkle lives in British America and is a subject of the King's; the old Van Winkle awakes in a country independent of the Crown. On a personal level, the awakened Van Winkle has gained another form of "independence": being widowered from his shrewish wife.[citation needed]

The story of Rip Van Winkle resembles several literary forerunners:[citation needed]

  • 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.[9]
  • The story is also similar to the ancient Jewish Talmudic[10] story about Honi the Circle-Maker (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, Honi falls asleep on the ground, is miraculously covered by a rock, and remains out of sight for 70 years. When he awakens, he finds a fully mature tree and learns 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 a similar, well-known story of "The Seven Sleepers of Ephesus", which recounts a group of early Christians who hid in a cave circa 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 version recalls a group of young monotheists escaping from persecution within a cave and emerging hundreds of years later.[11] Irving, who wrote a biography of Muhammad,[citation needed] 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 50 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 story.[citation needed]
  • 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, bound for 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 300 years have passed; his family and fellow warriors are all dead. When Oisin encounters some men trying to move a boulder, he 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, a third century Epicurean philosopher, includes the story of Epimenides in his book On the Lives, Opinions, and Sayings of Famous Philosophers, in chapter 10, 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 57 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 154, 157, or 299 years old.[12]
  • In Bhagavatam, there is a story of Muchukunda, King of Ikshavaku dynasty, who slept for a very long time. According to Hinduism, Muchukunda was an ancestor of Sri Rama's and had helped Indra fight against Asuras. Once, in a battle, the Devas (Hindu deities) were threatened by the Asuras. The Gods sought help from King Muchukunda, who agreed to help and fought against the demons for a long time.[13] 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 and was astonished to see the size of various beings. The size of all creatures had shrunken due to evolution, during the long time Muchukunda was asleep. Then Muchukunda went to north to Gandamadana Mountain, and from there to Badrika Ashrama,[14] where a famous Vishnu Temple is now located.


Joseph Jefferson as Rip Van Winkle (1896)

The story has been adapted for other media for the last two centuries, in cartoons, films, stage plays, music, and other media.




  • Numerous modern songs have been written whose lyrics retell the story, including the 1961 song "Rip Van Winkle" by The Devotions, the 2006 song "Rip Van Winkle" by Witch, and "Kaatskill Serenade" by David Bromberg. In the Belle and Sebastian song "I Could Be Dreaming" an extract from "Rip Van Winkle" is read.

Cartoons and animated filmsEdit

  • 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.[17] In it, Fred falls asleep at the Slate Company picnic and dreams he has awakened 20 years in the future as an old man. He notices various changes to his town of Bedrock and to his friends. Fred remarks that, "Maybe I have fallen asleep for 20 years like in that Rip Van Winklestone story."


  • In the Carl Barks comic Rip Van Donald (1950), Donald Duck's nephews trick him into believing that he has been sleeping for 40 years, and has supposedly awakened 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. Eventually Donald falls asleep and "returns" to 1950.
  • Disney's "Rip van Goofy" (February 1, 1966)[18] is a parody of "Rip Van Winkle", with Goofy portraying the character who sleeps for 20 years. When he awakens, no one remembers him except Mickey Mouse, once a child to whom Rip van Goofy told fantasy stories.
  • 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. A boy who addresses him as "Rip van Dinkle" explains that during the past 80 years the United States has been replaced by an authoritarian monarchy. Dink eventually awakens back in 1988.


  • Rip Van Winkle (1978), a claymation version of the story produced and directed by Will Vinton, was nominated for an Academy Award for Short Subject Animation.[19]
  • 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".[16]
  • The TV show Wishbone showed the dog imagining himself as the title character, complete with the men playing nine-pins and his mistaking the George Washington Inn for his old hangout, the King George Inn.[20][21]

In Popular CultureEdit



  • Old Rip Van Winkle is a brand of Kentucky Straight Bourbon whiskey produced by the Sazerac Company.
  • Pappy Van Winkle's Family Reserve is the flagship brand of Bourbon whiskey owned by the "Old Rip Van Winkle Distillery" company, actually distilled and bottled by the Sazerac Company.


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


  • 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".

See alsoEdit



  1. ^ Pierre M. Irving, The Life and Letters of Washington Irving, G. P. Putnam's Sons, 1883, vol. 2, p. 176.
  2. ^ Burstein, Andrew (2007). The Original Knickerbocker: The Life of Washington Irving. New York: Basic Books. p. 117. ISBN 978-0-465-00853-7. 
  3. ^ Jones, Brian Jay (2008). Washington Irving: An American Original. New York: Arcade Books. p. 168. ISBN 978-1-55970-836-4. 
  4. ^ a b Burstein, Andrew (2007). The Original Knickerbocker: The Life of Washington Irving. New York: Basic Books. p. 125. ISBN 978-0-465-00853-7. 
  5. ^ Jones, Brian Jay (2008). Washington Irving: An American Original. New York: Arcade Books. pp. 168–169. ISBN 978-1-55970-836-4. 
  6. ^ Burstein, Andrew (2007). The Original Knickerbocker: The Life of Washington Irving. New York: Basic Books. p. 120. ISBN 978-0-465-00853-7. 
  7. ^ Jones, Brian Jay (2008). Washington Irving: An American Original. New York: Arcade Books. pp. 177–178. ISBN 978-1-55970-836-4. 
  8. ^ Burstein, Andrew (2007). The Original Knickerbocker: The Life of Washington Irving. New York: Basic Books. pp. 149–150. ISBN 978-0-465-00853-7. 
  9. ^ Gioia, Joe (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. 
  10. ^ Babylonian Talmud Taanit 23a Hebrew/Aramaic text at Mechon-Mamre
  11. ^ "Surat Al-Kahf (18:9-26)". The Holy Qur'an – القرآن الكريم. 
  12. ^ Laertius, Diogenes & Hick, R.D. (translator) (1972). Lives of Eminent Philosophers: Books I-V. Cambridge: Harvard. p. 115. 
  13. ^ "Muchukunda". October 16, 2007. Retrieved October 30, 2013. 
  14. ^ "Srimad Bhagavatam Canto 10 Chapter 51". Retrieved 2013-10-30. 
  15. ^ a b c Jefferson, Joseph; Boucicault, Dion (1895). Rip Van Winkle (Introduction). Dodd, Mead and Company. p. 401-403. Retrieved 23 May 2017. 
  16. ^ a b c d e f g h i Hischak, Thomas S. (2012). American Literature on Stage and Screen. Jefferson, North Carolina: McFarland and Company. p. 197-198. Retrieved 23 May 2017. 
  17. ^ "IMDb Pro : Rip Van Flintstone Business Details". July 27, 2007. Retrieved October 30, 2013. 
  18. ^ "Rip van Goofy". Walt Disney's Comics and Stories (5). Gold Key. 26 (305). February 1, 1966. 
  19. ^ "Will Vinton's Personal Website". Retrieved 2013-10-30. 
  20. ^ Moore, Scott (November 5, 1995). "In Dogged Pursuit of Literacy". The Washington Post. Retrieved 26 March 2017. 
  21. ^ Mendoza, Manuel (October 8, 1995). "Tales Wag `Wishbone' To Lure Kids To Classics". The Sun Sentinel. Retrieved 26 March 2017. 


Further readingEdit

External linksEdit