Mark Twain
The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn
Book Review by Author/Illustrator Ross Anthony

Last I read Mark Twain, I 'bout falled asleep readin' Tom Sawyer. Made no sense, Twain bein' da talka lit classes, purt near tops book writer we gots, most folk say. I reckon'd I'd best give him a second try. So's I pulled out Ol' Huck Finn, I did. Right from the town's library, they got all kinds o' readin' there. Don't knows how I made it clean from school not bein' saddled with sawin' through that partic'lar publication. But, I did. No matter, I'm a readin' 'er now.

Perhaps Tom Sawyer failed to grab me because Twain chose to write it in author omniscient. I find his subtle tongue 'n cheek much more endearing in the mouth of a somewhat innocent, country adolescent. When Twain is clever through Huck, Huck doesn't quite get the joke, which makes it all the sweeter. Further, Huck tells the story so well, so purely, so "it's happening right before our eyes."

And then of course, the social relevance. Goodness, Twain must use the "N" word 1000 times in Finn. Still, he's slowly trying to take the stubborn slave-ownin' mind to a place of discovery, a place that sees a black man as a man, just like a white man. Thankfully, these days, that ain't no great revelation. But in those days, fights, or worse, were sure to erupt over the thought of it.

Most of Finn drifts along (catch my raft pun?) like an episode of the old Andy Griffith Show (probably inspired by the former), but this just makes Finn's deeper moments hit all the harder. At the one-third mark, this quip purt-near put me to tears:

"Jim talked out loud all the time while I was talking to myself. He was saying how the first thing he would do when he got to a free state he would go to saving up money and never spend a single cent, and when he got enough he would buy his wife, which was owned on a farm close to where Miss Watson lived; and then they would both work to buy the two children, and if their masters wouldn't sell them, they'd get an Ab'litionist to go and steal them."

The first third of the book is the richest: origins of the runaway, Huck enduring his abusive drunken father, the ultimate escape. It's real, it's deep, it's dramatic. To soon the King and Duke hitch along with Huck and Jim and bog down the second third with their trying escapades. I wondered why Twain allowed them so much page time. "Could these two characters be a projection of the possible futures of Tom Sawyer and Huck Finn?" I conjectured. Undoubtedly, Twain uses them to criticize some aspects of Southern thinking at the time (specifically: Lynch mentality, deadly family feuds). They also help flesh out Huck's moral code: "true good and bad" vs. "the rules of the land." At the two-thirds mark, Huck finally takes a stance on slavery. It's a pleasure how Twain writes this very serious moment. It's perhaps the focal paragraph of the entire work, yet Twain still infuses his trademark humor. Huck's been taught his whole life that going against this institution of slavery is a sin worthy of hell, he believes making a decision to help out Jim will mean certain damnation. Here's how Huck puts it:

"I was a-trembling, because I knowed it. I studied a minute, sort of holding my breath, and then says to myself: 'All right, then, I'll go to hell' ... I would go to work and steal Jim out of slavery again; and if I could think up anything worse, I would do that, too; because as long as I was in, and in for good, I might as well go the whole hog."

Thankfully, the Duke & King finally bow out at the tail end of their engagingest escapade. But, just as I'm about to forgive Twain for filling too many pages with these guys, who comes popping along back into the story, but Tom Sawyer. Sawyer'd nearly overstayed his welcome in the front end of the book. That is to say, the story really takes off when Huck does.

Nonetheless, at the two-thirds mark, the raft adventure comes ashore and stalls for the rest of the book with Tom Sawyer dead set on making swashbuckling-adventure out of serious plot. Where was Twain's editor? That said, once suffered through, the reader is rewarded with a pretty satisfying reason for the pain. Still, the title of the book promises that these would be Huck Finn's adventures. I'd argue that these sixty pages of "Tom Sawyer" adventuring would best fit in some other book. Truly, while the ending as written resolves nice enough, it's not worthy of the book's first third. In fact, the tone drifts miles down river from the promising build of the first one hundred pages which artfully paint a portrait of Finn's character chiseled into being. Twain's literary frolic, and trademark wry humor serve as a masterful support to the more serious goings-ons. Sadly, in the second half, the serious goings-ons are eclipsed from the work by the Tom-Sawyerness of it all. (I see a great opportunity for a creative writing teacher: Have students sketch a treatment for an ending half consistent with the beginning half.)

Make no mistake, each passage is well written, and pleasurably so. But structurally, the book simply loses its tone and focus. Lastly, usually I'm pretty forgiving with coincidences. Butů A kid runs away from his small town on a river raft and within the course of that summer "chances upon" three main characters from that small town (one being Tom Sawyer).

Don't get me wrong. I like this book. I'm recommending it. I respect the heck out of Twain for taking on the topic of slavery at that time period and in a YA book, no less. It's just that, Finn starts out like a masterpiece and I so wanted it to wind up that way.

I found the book chock full (albeit front-loaded) with juicy Twain quips from the mouth of Finn. Here are two that especially struck me:

"I reckon a boy that ups and tells the truth when he is in a tight place is taking considerable many resks, though I ain't had no experience, and can't say for certain; but it looks so to me anyway; and yet here's a case where I'm blest if it don't look to me like the truth is better and actually safer than a lie. I must lay it by in my mind, and think it over some time or other, it's so kind of strange and unregular. I never see nothing like it. Well, I says to myself at last, I'm a-going to chance it; I'll up and tell the truth this time, though it does seem most like setting down on a kag of powder and touching it off just to see where you'll go to."

"I don't make no difference whether you do right or wrong, a person's conscience ain't go no sense, and just goes for him anyway. If I had a yaller dog that didn't know more than a person's conscience does I would pison him. It takes up more room than all the rest of a person's insides, and yet ain't no good, no how."

Read more Book Reviews by Author/Illustrator Ross Anthony.


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Copyright © 1998-2016 Ross Anthony, Author - Speaker - Solo World Circumnavigator In addition to reviewing films and interviewing celebs at HollywoodReportCard.com, traveling the world, composing great music, motivational speaking, Mr. Anthony also runs his own publishing company in the Los Angeles area. While traversing the circumference of the planet writing books and shooting documentaries, Mr. Anthony has taught, presented for, worked &/or played with locals in over 30 countries & 100 cities (Nairobi to Nagasaki). He's bungee-jumped from a bridge near Victoria Falls, wrestled with lions in Zimbabwe, crashed a Vespa off a high mountain road in Taiwan, and ridden a dirt bike across the States (Washington State to Washington DC). To get signed books ("Rodney Appleseed" to "Jinshirou") or schedule Ross to speak check out: www.RossAnthony.com or call 1-800-767-7186. Check out his other sites too: Author*Illustrator*Speaker, Motobookothon 2009, M9, Write Triangle, TwT. Go into the world and inspire the people you meet with your love, kindness, and whatever it is you're really good at. Check out books by Ross Anthony. Rand() functions, Pho chicken soup, rollerblading, and frozen yogurt (w/ blueberries) also rock! (Btw, rand is short for random. It can also stand for "Really Awkward Nutty Dinosaurs" -- which is quite rand, isn't it?) Being alive is the miracle. Special thanks to Ken Kocanda, HAL, Jodie Keszek, Don Haderlein, Mom and Pops, my family, R. Foss, and many others by Ross Anthony. Galati-FE also deserves a shout out. And thanks to all of you for your interest and optimism. Enjoy great films, read stirring novels, grow.


Last Modified: Wednesday, 29-Feb-2012 11:07:48 PST