Rip Van Winkle
The following tale was found among the papers of the late Diedrich Knickerbocker, an old gentleman of New York, who was very curious in the Dutch history of the province, and the manners of the descendants from its primitive settlers.
Rip Van Winkle, however, was one of those happy mortals, of foolish, well-oiled dispositions, who take the world easy, eat white bread or brown, whichever can be got with least thought or trouble, and would rather starve on a penny than work for a pound.
His historical researches, however, did not lie so much among books as among men; for the former are lamentably scanty on his favorite topics....
"Will you tell us about the other worlds out among the stars—the other kinds of men, the other lives?"
Rip Van Winkle
The future is an old story
The plot of "Rip Van Winkle" is hardly original. Apparently Irving stole it from previous German fairy tales, including a very similar one by the Brothers Grimm. Not much of a plot either. Guy meets strange folk bowling in the woods, drinks too much, falls asleep, awakes in the future, meets his own descendants. End of story.
No explanation apart from magic. No exploration of how he and the society he discovers in the future are affected by this miraculous event.
Perhaps I'm expecting too much from a folk tale here, raised as I am on more involved science fiction stories. But the satirical writing is not so subtle here either, depending on a few stereotypes of henpecking wives and lay-about husbands. Irving's built-in excuse for the defects of the tale is that he's just repeating a story found among the works of someone else. (See the "First line".)
So what is the great appeal of "Rip Van Winkle"?
I'm guessing it's the placing of the man-out-of-time story before and after the American Revolution. It's a celebration of that epochal change wrought by the ordinary citizens of the United States—without going into the history and all those messy events that brought it about.
Look how far we've come, it says. If someone from colonial days could see us now.... I think this still reverberates in the American mind.
Of course there's also the fantastical elements to spice it up and the funny scenes of old Rip not realizing time has passed and trying to find his old mates, while proclaiming his loyalty to King George, leaving the people of his town to wonder if the old guy is a traitor or just nuts.
Not bad as far as it goes, but that's as far as it goes.
— Eric McMillan