An old folk legend told by the New York Dutch during colonial times. The story was popularized when Washington Irving wrote it up for one of his books.

Rip Van Winkle was a lazy, lazy man who hated to work and wanted to sleep all day. His wife nagged him to do some work, but he usually ended up dozing half the day away.

One day, Rip was strolling around the countryside when he heard some crashing about off the path. He went investigating and found a bunch of little people playing ninepins (a game similar to bowling). They asked him to play, and he spent most of the day bowling and drinking with the little people. Eventually, he got tired and decided to take a nap.

When he woke up, he went back down to the village where he lived and was astounded by how much different it looked. All the buildings had changed, and he didn't see anyone he recognized. No one recognized him either--and no wonder, since he looked like an old man, with a long white beard and tattered clothing. Finally, someone recognized him--his wife, now an old woman. To punish him for his chronic laziness, the little people had caused Rip to sleep for 20 years...

Or...

A man with no initiative to produce or succeed -- "lazy" regarding his own life's details, though good-natured and always willing to help anyone in need -- wanders through life seemingly content with his lot, except to the extent that he is nagged by a domineering wife.

One day, externally composed but internally desperate to get away from it all, he leaves town and deserts his family, following the old maxim: If the fool would but persist in his folly, he would become wise. He pursues his natural direction, his True Will, and walks up the mountain into a life ruled by his desire for the company of quiet men "amusing themselves".

After twenty years have elapsed, Winkle returns to his village, having undergone some sort of psychogenic fugue -- he recalls only a mild debauchery involving wine and lawn bowling, and a night passed out in the grass. But the town is changed. His wife is barely in her grave (making his timely return a bit too coincidental), and his children are grown. Ultimately he adjusts to this new world and lives out the remainder of his life as a respected member of the community.

The moral of the story would seem to be: Individuality is the Devil, and the Devil is Good.

I guess he didn't sleep through the American Revolution, after all.

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