Literary Pop: The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn

Author:  Mark Twain
Year:  1884
Nationality:  American

You don’t know about me, without you have read a book by the name of ‘The Adventures of Tom Sawyer’; but that ain’t no matter.”

A couple of years ago I read The Adventures of Tom Sawyer, Mark Twain’s second novel from 1876.  This week I finally got around to trying out my girlfriend’s Kindle (I was sceptical; she was sure I’d like it; as usual, she was right) and one of the books already downloaded was this, Twain’s 1884 sequel.  I didn’t want anything too heavy right after finishing Pride and Prejudice and I remembered the pleasant readability of Tom Sawyer, so this seemed the natural choice at the time (although the first sentence (above) took me a few tries to comprehend).  This proved to be a good selection, as I thoroughly enjoyed the book and finished it in a little over three days.

HuckJimRaft_6518Picking up soon after the conclusion of Tom Sawyer, the book finds Tom’s acquaintance Huck struggling to adapt to the civilisation offered to him by the Widow Douglas, who took him at the end of the previous book.  He is more accustomed to the outdoor life, to which he is returned when his drunken, vagrant father returns and coerces him into a cabin in the woods.  Huck escapes by dramatically faking his own brutal murder, fleeing to an island in the Mississippi River where he meets Jim, escaped slave of the Widow’s sister Miss Watson, who finds himself under suspicion for the aforementioned act.  Huck and Jim contrive a plan to secure the latter’s freedom by following the river as far as it will take them.  The pair are often separated, Jim not being able to risk coming too far ashore, but they never stay far apart.  Huck spends some time in a feuding household in Kentucky before they head to Arkansas, picking up a pair of unwelcome conmen and becoming embroiled in their plot to fraudulently inherit the estate of a wealthy corpse. The tricksters are served their just desserts but not before betraying Jim to the Phelps family who take him into captivity and endeavour to return him to his owner (for a hefty reward).  Huck finds himself taken in, mistaken for their nephew, who turns out to be none other than Tom Sawyer himself.  Tom plays along with Huck’s scheme to free Jim while at the same time making things as difficult as possible for anyone and everyone, only to reveal that Miss Watson died weeks ago, freeing Jim in her will, and so they return triumphantly to their home town of St. Petersburg, Missouri.

Another one of those books called “the Great American Novel”, there’s not a lot to fault in the Adventures of Huckleberry Finn; it’s the quintessential adventure story.  The language has of course come under incessant criticism for its explicit use of racist terms, and now some from me just because the dialect makes it a little difficult to read at times.  In addition to this, there’s a distinct point in the novel when the plot begins to go downhill a little (did someone say Tom?).  But the rest of the book is almost relentlessly exciting and certainly makes up for any slow ending.  There’s a whole lot of action poured into a relatively small book, all seen through the eyes of a deceptively intelligent ruffian.  I think this book is superior to Tom Sawyer mostly because the protagonist is far more endearing in his mischief, and that’s what makes the book.  I’d be ashamed to be a little upstart like Tom Sawyer, but I’d be proud to be Huck Finn.

My rating: 8.5/10

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