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Science: (ir)rationality & magic \ religion


Tim Burton's Sleepy Hollow

1 Science, religion and magic

In Sleepy Hollow (click here for a summary of the movie) the three traditional discourses - magic, religion and science - appear and initially oppose each other. Science is represented by Ichabod Crane, magic initially by the headless horseman and Ichabod's mother, and religion above all by Ichabod's father.

In Sleepy Hollow, the characterisation of both science and religion follows predictable paths. On the other hand, the characterisation of magic is surprising in an important way. Click on each of these images to see how the discourses relate to each other (follow the order from left to right):



1. science

& Ichabod Crane


2. religion

& Crane's father


3. magic

& Crane's mother


If you have clicked on the images, you will have seen in greater detail what can be shown schematically in the following picture:



Only magic is therefore articulated in surprising terms, since it is associated to nature rather than to the supernatural or metaphysical.

2 Paradoxes

This surprising turn creates certain paradoxes, some concerning magic itself, which hovers uneasily between the magical and the natural, the other concerning science. We have seen how in the movie science misconceives reality if it does not take the supernatural into account. If this happens, science should become not a language to converse with nature, but an oppressive other. In the movie, that otherness of science appears in two ways.

3 Integrative science

Much more important, however, is that in the end, Ichabod's science has the capacity to integrate magic into its understanding of reality. In a way, this is not surprising. Science studies nature, and in this movie magic is nature. How exactly does this integration take place? Ichabod experiences the existence of the headless horseman and his apparently senseless carnage directly, and, like a true scientist, he cannot deny what his senses tell him. Now once Ichabod admits a 'natural supernaturalism', only his science is able to solve the mystery behind the murders of the headless horseman. It is through deductive argument, Ichabod's scientific laws of "cause and consequence", that Ichabod finds out all the whys and hows surrounding the resurrection of the headless horseman.

acknowledgement of sources for pictures:

daniel.candel@uah.es | ©2008 Daniel Candel Bormann