what comes of reading tom sawyer and huckleberry finn – then and now

Persons who have never read about the adventures of Tom Sawyer and Huckleberry Finn may find the following article confusing and irrelevant.  Other persons within the same lamentable class may be inspired to seek out and read about the rollicking and hilarious adventures of these two boys for themselves.  The former may dismiss these literary treasures and never know what they’re missing.  The latter are in for a treat.

Running away from civilization to glorious adventure inside a perpetual summer with Tom Sawyer and Huckleberry Finn was one of my fondest daydreams when I was a kid.  I had most details worked out, where we’d hide, how we’d procure food, firewood and Springsteen cassettes.  Then the dilemma of whether I’d go steady with and eventually marry Tom or Huck reared up and cast a shadow over our exploits.  I felt sad and the dream was over for a time.

Tom and Huck

Last week, I pulled both Mark Twain’s The Adventures of Tom Sawyer and its sequel, The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn from my bookshelf and read them for the first time in about twenty-five years.  I learned a few things.

1.  Both books are almost as good as when I was a kid, and would as good if age and disillusionment didn’t dissipate a bit of colour and bigness and wonder reserved for little readers.  I wasn’t sure how absorbing they would be now that I’m grown up but Twain’s own preface to Tom Sawyer gave me confidence.

preface

He wasn’t fooling.  Both books are still funny and thought-provoking now and will be again if I get to pull them from the shelf in another quarter of a century.

2.  You can’t dive into both Tom Sawyer and Huckleberry Finn in only one week without your grammar got soaked like Tom’s one-eyed cat stumbling over a wash basin.

I can’t say nothing now without double negatives creeping into my speech and word endings may or may not make it past my lips before another linguistic embarrassment rolls off my tongue.    Following a commotion coming from the chicken coop Tuesday night I turned to Albert and asked him what on earth was ailin’ ‘nem hens.  Worst of all, when I try to correct myself, I can’t remember every time how to say things proper.

I’ve got no choice but to steer clear of every person I can reasonably avoid whose grammar I’ve ever corrected until this verbal malady wears off.  Pride and Prejudice next week will likely speed the process but to my shame, a week of cave exploring, Mississippi river rafting and black slave abolitionin’ makes fancy dress balls and English manners seem fearsome dull by comparison.

3.  Reading these books no longer makes me want to run off with Tom Sawyer and Huck Finn.  I’m unnerved by the relief I feel at this discovery, if you can unravel that.  No, my renewed interest in all things Twainian will be satisfied in a journey, travelled by nothing more rustic nor romantical than a 2013 Toyota Corolla with fully functioning AC for warm weather and heated seats for cool, to Hannibal, Missouri, Mark Twain’s hometown and inspiration for St. Petersburg and everything and everybody in it.

Well, that and a fanatical search for a hardcover copy of The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn.  Published in New York by Macmillan in 1962, illustrated by John Philip Falter.  Because he’s the only artist who’s captured Twain’s characters the way anyone who’s imagined them properly could.  Since we’re disclosing.

But I know now why I got sad as a little girl when I thought about choosing Tom or Huck.  It’s because marrying would require the boys to grow up, and that would be a tragedy.  One could imagine Tom as an adult (but why would you?) but a grown up Huck calls to mind a pitiful image of Muff Potter: harmless, kind even, to the village children, but aimless and ill-equipped to function in the real world.

Others have written about the pointlessness of a grownup Tom and Huck (Twain actually considered bringing geriatric Tom and Huck back to St. Petersburg for one last book) but it’s possible that the distinction of having arrived at this conclusion through soul-wrenching ambivalence about which fictional character to choose for a life partner may be mine exclusively.

A grown-up Tom and Huck are as difficult to imagine as a scallop-edged bone china teacup perched aloft the pinky finger of Injun Joe.  It’s just not right.  And so I won’t try no more.

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3 responses to this post.

  1. I confess I have read neither tale. I was busy with Anne and her Green Gables and Jo and her glorious Little Women. I will now have to seek out copies of both Tom and Huck to add my growing “to-be-read” library.

    Reply

    • In turn, I must confess that I read Little Women for the first time only a year or two ago.

      Professor Bhaer was wonderful (especially as played by Gabriel Byrne in the film adaptation) but I never could accept that Jo rejected Laurie. Did you have this problem or do you feel that the novel ended just right?

      Reply

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