"Rip Van Winkle"
Short story by Washington Irving
Depiction of Rip Van Winkle by John Quidor (1829). Housed at Art Institute of Chicago.
Text available at Wikisource
Genre(s)Short story
Published inThe Sketch Book of Geoffrey Crayon, Gent.
Publication date1819

"Rip Van Winkle" (Dutch pronunciation: [ˈrɪp vɑn ˈwɪŋkl]) is a short story by the American author Washington Irving, first published in 1819. It follows a Dutch-American villager in colonial America named Rip Van Winkle who meets mysterious Dutchmen, imbibes their strong liquor and thence falls deeply asleep in the Catskill Mountains. He awakes 20 years later to a very changed world, having missed the American Revolution.

Inspired by a conversation on nostalgia with his American expatriate brother-in-law, Irving wrote the story while temporarily living in Birmingham, England. It was published in his collection, The Sketch Book of Geoffrey Crayon, Gent. While the story is set in New York's Catskill Mountains near where Irving later took up residence, he admitted, "When I wrote the story, I had never been on the Catskills."[1]


Rip Van Winkle, a Dutch-American man with a habit of avoiding useful work, lives in a village at the foot of New York's Catskill Mountains in the years before the American Revolution. One day, he goes squirrel hunting in the mountains with his dog Wolf to escape his wife's nagging. As evening falls, he hears a voice calling his name and finds a man dressed in antiquated Dutch clothing and carrying a keg. Rip helps the man carry his burden to a cleft in the rocks from which thunderous noises are emanating; the source proves to be a group of ornately-dressed (seemingly of distinctly colonial Dutch outfit) and bearded men playing nine-pins. Not asking who these men are or how they know his name, Rip joins them in drinking flagons of alcohol from the keg he has helped carry and soon becomes so intoxicated that he falls asleep.

Rip awakens on a sunny morning, at the spot where he first saw the keg-carrier, and finds that many drastic changes have occurred; his beard is a foot long and has turned gray, his musket is badly deteriorated, and Wolf is nowhere to be found. Returning to his village, he discovers it to be larger than he remembers and filled with people in unfamiliar clothing, none of whom recognize him. When asked how he voted in the election that has just been held, he declares himself a loyal subject of King George III, unaware that the American Revolution has taken place in his absence. He learns that many of his old friends were either killed in the war or have left the village, and is disturbed to find a young man who shares his name, mannerisms, and younger appearance. A young woman states that her father is Rip Van Winkle, who has been missing for 20 years, and an old woman recognizes him as Rip. The young woman and the young Rip are his children, and the former has named her infant son after him as well.

Depiction of Rip Van Winkle by Thomas Nast (c. 1875). Housed at Yale University Library.

Rip discovers that his wife has been dead for some time, but is overall not saddened by the news. He learns via a village elder that the men whom he met in the mountains are rumored to be ghosts of the crew of the Halve Maen (Half-Moon), captained by English sea explorer Henry Hudson. His daughter takes him into her home, and he soon resumes his usual idleness (unconcerned by the major political changes during his slumber) and begins telling his story to every stranger who visits the village. The tale is solemnly taken to heart (despite some assuming him to be insane) by the settlers, particularly by the children who say that, whenever thunder is heard, the men in the mountains must be playing nine-pins.

Rip Van Winkle statue in Irvington, New York (a town named for Washington Irving), not far from the Tarrytown location of Sunnyside, Irving's final home


Composition and publication history

First installment of The Sketch Book of Geoffrey Crayon, Gent. (1819) 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, where his brother-in-law Henry Van Wart had opened a trading firm.[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][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]

Following the success of Rip Van Winkle in print and on stage, later celebrated editions were illustrated by Arthur (Heinemann, 1905) and N.C. Wyeth (McKay, 1921).

Themes and literary forerunners

One story in Judaism concerns Honi HaMe'agel, a miracle-working sage of the 1st century BC, who was a historical character but to whom various myths were attached. While traveling one day, Honi saw a man planting a carob tree and asked him about it. The man explained that the tree would take 70 years to bear fruit, and that he was planting it not for himself but for the generations to follow him. Later that day, Honi sat down to rest but fell asleep for 70 years; when he awoke, he saw a man picking fruit from a fully mature carob tree. Asked whether he had planted it, the man replied that he had not, but that his grandfather had planted it for him.[9][10]

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.[11] This Christian story is recounted by Islam and appears in a famous Sura of the Quran, Sura Al-Kahf.[12] The version recalls a group of young monotheists escaping from persecution within a cave and emerging hundreds of years later.[13]

Another similar story in the Islamic tradition is of Uzair (usually identified with the Biblical Ezra) whose grief at the Destruction of Jerusalem by the Babylonians was so great that God took his soul and brought him back to life after Jerusalem was reconstructed. He rode on his revived donkey and entered his native place. But the people did not recognize him, nor did his household, except the maid, who was now an old blind woman. He prayed to God to cure her blindness and she could see again. He meets his son who recognized him by a mole between his shoulders and was older than he was.[14][15] (see Uzair#Islamic tradition and literature).

Albert Einstein's theory of relativity, under which a person traveling at near light speed would experience only the passage of a few years but would return to find centuries had passed on Earth, provides a broad new scope to express essentially the same literary theme – for example, in the opening chapter of Ursula K. Le Guin's Rocannon's World. In Robert Heinlein's Time for the Stars, Earth sends out a fleet of relativistic ships to explore the galaxy, their crews hailed as stalwart pioneers – but after a century, which they experience as only a few years, faster-than-light ships are developed and the earlier ones are recalled, their crews discovering that they had become unwanted anachronisms on a changed Earth. The protagonist notices a newspaper headline disparagingly announcing the arrival of himself and his shipmates as "yet another crew of Rip Van Winkles".

In the tenth chapter of his book Lives and Opinions of Eminent Philosophers, the third-century AD Greek historian Diogenes Laërtius relates the story of the legendary sage Epimenides of Knossos, who was said to have been a shepherd on the island of Crete.[16][17] One day, Epimenides followed after a sheep that had wandered off and, after becoming tired, went into a cave under Mount Ida and fell asleep. When he awoke, he continued searching for the sheep, but could not find it, so he returned to his father's farm, only to discover that it was under new ownership. He went home, only to discover that the people there did not know him. Finally, he encountered his younger brother, who had become an old man, and learned that he had been asleep in the cave for fifty-seven years.[16][17] According to the different sources that Diogenes relates, Epimenides lived to be 154, 157, or 299 years old.[18] Multiple sources have identified the story of Epimenides as the earliest known variant of the "Rip Van Winkle" fairy tale.[16][17][19][11][20]

The story of "Rip Van Winkle" itself is widely thought to have been based on Johann Karl Christoph Nachtigal's German folktale "Peter Klaus",[4][11] which is a shorter story set in a German village. It tells of a goatherd named Peter Klaus who goes looking for a lost goat. He finds some men drinking in the woods and, after drinking some of their wine, he falls asleep. When he wakes back up, twenty years have passed.[4][21]

The story also bears some similarities to stories from East Asia, including the third century AD Chinese tale of "Ranka", as retold by Lionel Giles in A Gallery of Chinese Immortals, and the eighth-century Japanese tale "Urashima Tarō".[11] The Hindu story of Muchukunda from the Bhagavatam also displays many similarities to the story of "Rip Van Winkle".[22][23]

The theme is taken up in numerous modern works of science fiction. In H. G. Wells's The Sleeper Awakes, a man who sleeps for 203 years wakes up in a completely transformed London where he has become the richest man in the world. In the original Buck Rogers book, the protagonist falls asleep under the influence of a gas in a mine, sleeps for four centuries and wakes to find America under the rule of Mongol invaders – whereupon he places himself at the head of the freedom fighters. In Roger Zelazny's science-fantasy series The Chronicles of Amber, protagonist Corwyn experiences drinking and revelry in an underground lair with otherworldly people who try to entice him into slumber; he knows this is a centuries-of-sleep trap and resists; the passage is similar in theme to both "Rip Van Winkle" and especially the Orkney story.


Joseph Jefferson as Rip Van Winkle (1896)

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

Classics Illustrated issue #12


A sculpture of Rip Van Winkle located near the summit of Hunter Mountain Ski Resort.

There is a statue of Rip Van Winkle in Irvington, New York. A sculpture of Rip Van Winkle can also be found near the summit of the Hunter Mountain Ski Resort in the Catskills.

In popular culture

The name Rip Van Winkle has been used to name

See also


  1. ^ Pierre M. Irving (1883). The Life and Letters of Washington Irving. Vol. 2. G. P. Putnam's Sons. 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 c 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. ^ Babylonian Talmud Taanit 23a Hebrew/Aramaic text at Mechon-Mamre
  10. ^ Margaret Snyder (August 29, 2000). "Community Commentary". The Los Angeles Times. Retrieved November 10, 2022.
  11. ^ a b c d Thorn, John. "Saint Rip". nyfolklore.org. Voices: The Journal of New York Folklore. Archived from the original on 18 October 2017. Retrieved 21 June 2017.
  12. ^ Quran Surah Al-Kahf
  13. ^ "Surat Al-Kahf (18:9–26)". The Holy Qur'an – القرآن الكريم.
  14. ^ Renda, G'nsel (1978). "The Miniatures of the Zubdat Al- Tawarikh". Turkish Treasures Culture /Art / Tourism Magazine.
  15. ^ Ibn Kathir, Stories of the Prophets, translated by Shaikh muhammed Mustafa Gemeiah, Office of the Grand Imam, Sheikh al-Azhar, El-Nour Publishing, Egypt, 1997, Ch.21, pp.322-4
  16. ^ a b c Rothschild, Clare K. (2014). Paul in Athens: The Popular Religious Context of Acts 17. Tübingen, Germany: Mohr Siebeck. pp. 40–42. ISBN 978-3-16-153260-3.
  17. ^ a b c Hansen, William (2017). The Book of Greek & Roman Folktales, Legends & Myths. Princeton, New Jersey: Princeton University Press. pp. 132–133. ISBN 9780691170152.
  18. ^ Diogenes Laërtius (1972). Lives of Eminent Philosophers: Books I-V. Translated by Hick, R. D. (translator). Cambridge: Harvard. p. 115. ((cite book)): |translator-first= has generic name (help)
  19. ^ Welch, Deshler (9 May 1887). The Theater. Vol. 3. New York City, New York: Theatre Publishing Company. p. 139. Retrieved 21 June 2017.
  20. ^ Bates, Alfred (1906). The Drama; Its History, Literature and Influence on Civilization: American Drama. Vol. 20. London, England: Historical Publishing Company. p. 121. Retrieved 21 June 2017.
  21. ^ A translation of the tale is available on Wikisource: Peter the Goatherd.
  22. ^ "Muchukunda". Mythfolklore.net. October 16, 2007. Retrieved October 30, 2013.
  23. ^ "Srimad Bhagavatam Canto 10 Chapter 51". Vedabase.net. Archived from the original on 2013-10-12. Retrieved 2013-10-30.
  24. ^ Jefferson, Joseph; Boucicault, Dion (1895). Rip Van Winkle (Introduction). Dodd, Mead and Company. pp. 401–403. Retrieved May 23, 2017.
  25. ^ a b c d e Hischak, Thomas S. (2012). American Literature on Stage and Screen. Jefferson, North Carolina: McFarland and Company. pp. 197–198. ISBN 9780786492794. Retrieved May 23, 2017.
  26. ^ Keller, Helen (1903). The Story of My Life. ISBN 978-1-7225-0392-5. OCLC 1263778902.
  27. ^ "Performances". thesigmanbrothers.com. Retrieved 2022-08-29.
  28. ^ "Winners Announced For The BroadwayWorld 2021 Chicago Awards". BroadwayWorld.com. Retrieved 2022-08-29.
  29. ^ "Tale Spinners for Children". artsreformation.com. Archived from the original on 2013-08-13. Retrieved 2019-04-18.
  30. ^ "IMDb Pro: Rip Van Flintstone Business Details". pro.imdb.com. July 27, 2007. Retrieved October 30, 2013.
  31. ^ "Rip Van Kitty/U.S. Acres: Grabbity/The Big Catnap Business Details". IMDb Pro. Retrieved January 28, 2023.
  32. ^ "Will Vinton's Personal Website". Willvinton.net. Retrieved 2013-10-30.
  33. ^ "Rip van Goofy". Walt Disney's Comics and Stories (5). Gold Key. 26 (305). February 1, 1966.
  34. ^ Moore, Scott (November 5, 1995). "In Dogged Pursuit of Literacy". The Washington Post. Retrieved March 26, 2017.
  35. ^ Mendoza, Manuel (October 8, 1995). "Tales Wag 'Wishbone' To Lure Kids To Classics". The Sun Sentinel. Retrieved March 26, 2017.
  36. ^ "Rip Van Winkle Bridge". nysba.ny.gov.
  37. ^ Moran, Nancy (August 13, 1970). "One-Way Tolls Confusing Some Drivers". The New York Times. Retrieved April 9, 2018.
  38. ^ Van Winkle Campbell, Sally (1999). But Always Fine Bourbon: Pappy Van Winkle and the Story of Old Fitzerald. Louisville, KY: Limestone Lane Press. ISBN 9780967420806.
  39. ^ Gabriel Trip (October 18, 2013). "The case of the Missing Bourbon". The New York Times.


Further reading