Friday, April 11, 2008

Mark Twain

The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn
by Mark Twain (a.k.a. Samuel Clemens)
Recommended Age: 13+

When I was quite young, I thought The Adventures of Tom Sawyer was a great book. It had mischief, adventure, danger, a bit of romance, plenty of humor, and a vividly-drawn depiction of life along the mid-Mississippi in the mid-1800’s.

It wasn’t until much later that I “got” the sequel, Huckleberry Finn. But this book is more than just a sequel. It is on an entirely different level, like how The Lord of the Rings is so far beyond The Hobbit. One of my high school teachers claimed that Huck Finn is really the first “great American novel” – and considering that it has a weak ending and a streak of political incorrectness so wide that it is now banned in many school districts, that’s really saying a lot!

Huck is sort of an orphan – sort of. He is sort of a wild boy who lives by his own wits, but after he and Tom Sawyer make their fortune together (see Tom’s book), he finds himself under the guardianship of a fussy, religious lady who wants to shape him up into a fussy, religious boy. Huck is having none of it, especially after his ne’er-do-well father turns up and threatens to ruin everything. So Huck runs away with a black slave named Jim, and the two of them escape down the Mississippi on a wooden raft.

The next part of the novel is a masterpiece of verbal landscape-painting, as the white boy and the black man float down the idyllic river together. They run into some odd characters, get into some hair-raising (and often funny) adventures, and develop a relationship that was so significantly contrary to the way people in Twain’s day believed the races should get along, that anyone who considers this novel to be racist must be seriously missing the point!

And then, sadly, Twain wrote himself into a corner, and the only way he could think to get out of it was to bring out a Tom-ex-machina and dash off an ending full of action and high-jinks. Oh, well. It was perfect for a while. Before you knock it, I dare you to write something as wonderful as the middle two-thirds of this novel.

No comments: