Teaching An Old Character New Tricks

ReturntoSleepHollowCollageHave you considered tapping into a classic novel for inspiration?  Or perhaps, turning a tale on its ear with a retelling? When Dax Varley decided to explore Washington Irving’s  The Legend of Sleepy Hollow, the character to take center stage wasn’t Ichabod Crane…Read on to see why Dax chose to explore a secondary character in Return to Sleepy Hollow.


If you’re familiar with “The Legend of Sleepy Hollow,” then you’ll know that Katrina Van Tassel was a spoiled rich beauty who toyed with Ichabod Crane to rile Brom Bone’s jealousy and basically mess with his head. As a matter of fact, her rosy cheeks, short petticoats, and future inheritance brought all the boys to the farm.

Hmmm… a cunning rich girl who uses her beauty and birthright to manipulate the men in her life? Pretty shallow, right?

When I decided to write my own version from Katrina’s point of view, I carefully studied who she was, how the characters related to her, and to what lengths they’d go to get dibs on those riches and that “plump, ripe” body of hers. I kept thinking there had to be more depth to her than Washington Irving shared—something beyond her being a tease. So I explored her in a different manner. The Katrina of my book, while still wealthy and somewhat spoiled, would have more “mettle,” as Irving would put it.

As with any retelling, the teller must be careful. And especially so with Sleepy Hollow. It’s a sacred part of Americana, rich in history, and a favorite of Halloween. But Tim Burton, in his 1999 film, changed Ichabod from a school teacher to a police constable. And the Fox TV series has him in present-day, fighting to prevent the apocalypse. I figured if they could go to such lengths, I shouldn’t sweat converting Katrina Van Tassel from coquette to kick ass.

The Katrina of my world knows exactly what she wants, no games. And she’s not too girly or weak to attain it. This gal will get her hands dirty…literally. In Sleepy Hollow she’s not above breaking and entering, wielding a meat clever, or digging up the Horseman’s grave to save her beloved Ichabod.

The Headless Horseman? Oh, she challenges him too. In Return to Sleepy Hollow she faces him in a cold dark alley, wearing only her nightgown, a fireplace poker her weapon. Not much defense against a phantom’s sword. But back down? Not her. Never.

Though I wrote Katrina as strong-willed, I felt it important to keep her femininity intact. She still appreciates a well put-together man, lovely dresses, and in one scene in Sleepy Hollow she takes Ichabod to her secret hideout and shows him the paper dolls she’d cut from her Mother’s fashion papers as a child, stating, “They still make me happy.”

I’m deeply grateful to Washington Irving for creating these immortal characters—characters I was free to play around with and mold to my plot. Especially Katrina. Though she was not the main character of the original tale, it was her actions that drove the story forward. That was enough for me to give her top billing.


  1. Caroline Leech says:

    Hi there! Revisiting a classic tale sounds like a great idea, but weren’t you frightened that you would be breaching copyright in some way, or that the Washington Irving Memorial Trust or some such institution would come after you for stealing intellectual rights? I know others have rewritten fairy tales (such as Alex Flinn’s Beastly and Edith Patou’s East), but an actual novel is a whole different matter, isn’t it? Thanks. Caroline

  2. Lynn Lovegreen says:

    I love what you did with Katrina, Dax. And I’m a big fan of your Tumblr posts. 🙂

  3. Cornelia Amiri says:

    I love your premise of Sleepy Hollow from Katrina Van Tassel’s point of view. I’m glad you fleshed the character out and made her more real so modern readers could connect to her. The book sounds great.