on 25 August 2004
Back during my school days this was still not a book that was considered to be politically incorrect and so I was supposed to read it. As was far to often the case, I got by on little more than watching the movie version and never bothered to read this masterpiece. A few months ago I picked up a copy to put in my library for my grandson to use when he got old enough to go to school. Unfortunately this has been classified as a children's book and so I had little intention of reading it when I bought it.
After discussing a book about President Grant and Mark Twain with a friend I decided that I should read this book and I soon found out just how much of an adventure I had been missing. Twain's well deserved reputation as a storyteller is on clear display in this book from cover to cover. The reader is drawn into the lives of the characters to the point of being really disturbed when something bad happens to them. Sure, they steal and they lie but you will love them in spite of everything.
The story basically follows the adventures of young Huckleberry Finn and a runaway slave named Jim. Finn is trying to escape has father and the efforts of the townspeople to civilize him while Jim is trying to escape slavery. More to the point, Jim is trying to escape being sold down the river, which was always a worry for slaves in the upper south.
There is a strong moral point to this book as Huck slowly learns to love Jim as a friend and not think of his skin color. Early on Huck is worried about helping a runaway slave and isn't sure what to do. Having been raised in Missouri, Huck has been taught that helping a slave run away is one of the worst sins imaginable and that African-Americans are pretty much worthless except as slaves. It takes a while for the truth to come to Huck but he finds that he is determined to help his friend get his freedom, no matter what. Huck ends up risking his own life to do just that.
This book is a pure joy to read and I suggest you read it without looking for a political agenda. Just let the story flow and enjoy each word. The dialects used may slow you down a bit at first but they add so much to the flow of the book that they are quite indispensable. This is a wonderful story, full of youthful innocence and backwoods charm. Just one little warning though, once you start reading you won't be able to put this book down.
on 10 December 2000
My mum read this to me (aged 8) and my brother (aged 10). We thought it was very funny and all the adventures Huck had were really cool. I liked the part where he said: "Telling the truth is like sitting on a keg of gunpowder and lighting it just to see where you'll go". It made us laugh a lot. We learnt a lot about superstitions, like touching a snakeskin brings bad luck, and a hairy chest makes you rich. But it wasn't funny to find out about how people used to think about slaves.
on 27 February 2006
Huckleberry Finn is illustrative of the world, not only in the cosmopolitan characters entering and leaving the story, but also in the way people react to it. One reaction is that it is a racist novel, mentioning the word nigger 121 times. The people who interpret the novel in this way seem only glance at the surface and delve no deeper. They probably do this in all other aspects of their life. The second type of person will look deeper, as though delving into the depths of the Mississippi River setting. They will see past the racism of Huckleberry Finn himself as Huck comments on the definite signs of humanity and equality in Jim. They will see the underlying message, of how he is the product of a terrible system and look into the other messages encountered in the journey of the book. To this type of person no other novel can be so fascinating, yet remain humorous all the while.
I'm not sure how I've managed to have lived on the planet for fifty years without reading anything by Mark Twain. When "The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn" was chosen for my Book Group I was very pleased. Not only had I not read it but I didn't even know what it was about - all I knew was that it is regarded by many as an American classic.
It took me a while to get into the style. It's all written in the vernacular. This is both a strength and weakness. The writing style grated in parts and is especially hard to follow when Jim, the slave, is talking, that said the style makes the book feel very contemporary - far more than any other 19th century novel I've read. Ultimately Huckleberry Finn's world was made wonderfully vivid through his seemingly authentic first person voice.
It's an enjoyable, if rather long, adventure with as many twists and turns as the Mississippi River that features so extensively. The plot appears to be a vehicle for Twain to highlight issues around freedom and slavery. Huckleberry Finn is held captive by his abusive father and, quite understandably, wants to escape to freedom. Jim the slave faces far more serious issues when he tries to escape.
It's a likeable book, and I'm pleased I've finally read it, but I don't fully understand its status as a classic. It's an enjoyable, if rather long and sprawling, yarn. Cleverly written too, however I was bored in places and I wonder if it would be improved by being shorter and more concise. Perhaps, the long journey is part of the appeal, perhaps it has greater resonance for Americans who are closer to the Civil Rights struggles of their country.
Oh, and as someone who enjoys the music of the band The Duke and The King, I was delighted to discover the origins of the band's name.
Mark Twain's Huckleberry Finn is not only Twain's best work, but is considered by some, one of the greatest novels ever written. Episodic in form (as Twain warns, "persons attempting to find a plot in it will be shot"), Huckleberry Finn is clearly, along with Nathaniel Hawthorne's The Scarlet Letter and Herman Melville's Moby-Dick, one of the three most ambitious and artistically successful novels of America's 19th century.
But what is it about Huckleberry Finn that makes it stand out? Most young people reading it will declare that they thought Tom Sawyer was better, and for them, they would be right. It is a difficult novel to teach. The dialect is actually difficult for some inexperienced readers. The satire and ironies are often lost on some readers, and some minorities are offended by what they think is its racist tone. That, however, is an historical irony if ever there was one. Twain's intent was to belittle and make fun of the racist attitudes of most Americans. The very fact that Jim and Huck were able to achieve a fast friendship and to negotiate together the epic journey down the Mississippi with Jim often showing superior wisdom and a right smart common sense did not sit well with some prejudicial mind sets. Today what offends is the language, in particular the use of the "n" word.
But what makes Huckleberry Finn a great novel is first and foremost the indelible character of the often self-effacing Huck Finn himself and his compelling, lyrical, and ever so beautifully observed narrative. There is only one other novel in American literature that can be considered in the same league as far as first person narratives go, and that is Nabokov's Lolita. Strange to say Humbert Humbert and Huck Finn have one thing in common, an uncommon ability to make their differing worlds extraordinarily vivid through painstakingly clever and absolutely authentic voices. Both Twain and Nabokov achieved this rare veracity because of their command of language, their sense of character, and their fine ear for the nuances of speech.
Sense of character is also what makes Huckleberry Finn a great novel. The characters are so real they practically jump off the page. Even the minor characters are Shakespearean in their psychological verity. It is not exactly a co-incidence that the Duke of "Bilgewater" and the "King of France," those ornery rascals rescued by Huck and Jim, were experts in ersatz Shakespeare and various dodges. Twain knew people, and he knew them well. Too well, one might say, considering his low opinion of humankind.
The effective--even rhapsodic--use of dialect is another thing that makes Huckleberry Finn a great novel. Writing a novel in dialect is a difficult thing to do well. Many have tried it and many have failed. Most writers are well advised to limit their use of dialect to the speech of their characters. But Twain was a master of dialect of many sorts, and was able to have Huck Finn narrate the entire novel in his voice while at the same time employ the various dialects of the other characters. Nabokov--although I don't think he ever acknowledged this--was undoubtedly influenced by Twain's authentic use of dialect; but because his narrator was a transplanted European professor of literature, he had to narrate in standard English; indeed a most eloquent standard English. Yet, one notices that Nabokov through Humbert took some delight in reproducing Lolita's authentic speech, her mid-twentieth century, New England, urban teenaged dialect.
Finally, what makes Huckleberry Finn a great novel is its humor. Twain was a master of all sorts of humor. (He was a great public speaker and story teller.) The language of the novel itself is replete with "malapropisms, puns, misquotations, understatement, exaggeration, incongruities, illiteracies, and absurd spellings," to quote from Benet's Reader's Encyclopedia of American Literature, p. 259--most done for comedic effect. Additionally, the yarns themselves, the "stretchers," as Huck has it, are wondrous funny, and Huck's commonsensical take on life often contrasted humorously with what he actually saw and experienced.
Here's one of my favorite passages from the book to illustrate the master's humorous style. The ragged "King" is about to divulge "the secret of" his "being" to the supposed Duke of Bridgewater and to Huck and Jim. He says, doing the "Duke" one better:
"Bilgewater, I am the late Dauphin!"
Huck writes, "You bet you Jim and me stared, this time. Then the duke says:
'You are what?'
'Yes, my friend, it is too true--your eyes is lookin' at this very moment on the pore disappeared Dauphin, Looy the Seventeen, son of Looy the Sixteen and Marry Antonette.'
'You! At your age? No! You mean you're the late Charlemagne; you must be six or seven hundred years old, at the very least.'
'Trouble has done it, Bilgewater, trouble has done it; trouble has brung these gray hairs and this premature balditude. Yes, gentlemen, you see before you, in blue jeans and misery, the wanderin', exiled, trampled-on and sufferin' rightful King of France.'"
It is the sheer density of Twain's artistry that most impresses me. I wish I had room to quote the rest of the page as Huck goes on to describe how they "majestying" him so that it "done him heaps of good." There is so much on practically every page. I know of no other writer except Shakespeare who can reveal so much in so few words, and who could use words so creatively.
This is a great novel and anyone who cares about American literature has read it or will.
If there's any book out there that needs no introduction (or review, to be honest), it's Mark Twain's The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn. Yet here I am reviewing it, anyway. I must admit (not without a fair share of embarrassment) that I just now got around to reading this American classic for the first time. I never had to read it in school, and to some degree I felt pretty familiar with the novel even without having read it - that's just how popular and important Huckleberry Finn is to the social fabric of America.
Nowadays, with all the politically correct liberals having escaped their Berkeley zoo and run amuck all over the nation, many of our young people are told not to read this novel. In fact, legions of voices cry out for poor little Huck Finn, that beloved rascal of literature, to be banned from schools and libraries - for the crime of using the n-word, a word commonly used by both blacks and whites up and down the Mississippi during Huck's time (not to mention numerous hip-hop artists of today). Turning a blind eye to the fact that Twain made the slave Jim a noble, human, easy-going fellow with his heart always in the right place (unlike Huck's other companions), the literary fascists contend that this novel is poison to the minds of youngsters. One can only imagine the reaction Mark Twain would have to the hysteria his book incites in liberals today (although he would certainly not be surprised, as he had to fight censorship of this book from the date of its publication).
One of the great ironies of the "Ban Huck Finn" brouhaha is the fact that young people will surely find this novel much more entertaining than the vast majority of other literary classics they are asked to read. This is a very funny book, especially once "the duke and the dauphin" arrive on the scene and, later, when Tom Sawyer meticulously plans out Jim's rescue from captivity (no thanks to the captors, who didn't even try to make it as difficult as Tom says it should be). Young readers will also relate to and understand this book, a fact which should give rise to spirited discussion of it in class. Don't we want our kids to be excited about books and reading?
The more outrageous the hissy fits thrown by liberal critics over the "dangers" of Huck Finn, the more important it is for everyone, young and old alike, to go out and read Twain's novel. Whenever someone tells you not to read something, it's important that you go out there and read it - and discover whatever it is the book banning loonies don't want you to know. Prove to them that you are intelligent enough to know the difference between the social values of the past and present, fiction and reality, right and wrong, etc. Think for yourself. Read The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn.
In this follow up to his classic about Tom Sawyer, Mark Twain focuses on Huckleberry Finn. The book has only the loosest of plots. The beginning follows Huck as he tries to adjust to being "civilized" and then tricks his abusive pappy into think he's dead.
The book really gets rolling when Huck and runaway slave Jim take to the raft down the Mississippi River. Even then, it's episodic in nature as they get caught up in a feud and harbor two conmen, the King and the Duke. In the final part of the novel, Tom Sawyer makes a reappearance and helps Huck free Jim, who is being held as a runaway slave.
Honestly, that last "episode" is my favorite in the book. It's so funny watching Tom make things ten times as complicated as needed since he wants to make this a grand adventure. I love it.
This book has always captured my imagination more than the first with these characters, probably because I love the idea of rafting down the Mississippi. It's a classic adventure that appeals to the boy in me. I freely admit the episodic nature of the plot makes for an uneven read.
Also problematic is the dialect writing. Huck narrates this book first person, and his schooling isn't the best, so the grammar reflects that. It's nothing compared to the poor grammar and written accents of some of the other characters, most noticeably Jim. There are times it's almost impossible to understand what is being "said."
This book often gets challenged and even banned because Twain uses the "N" word to talk about Jim and the other slaves. Considering when the book was set (before the Civil War) and written (1870's), that was the "correct" term to use. I challenge you to read beyond that because what you'll find is that Twain was trying to challenge the views of his day. Jim is the best character, and Huck's growth as a character comes from recognizing Jim as a fellow human being.
This is still a fun read that holds a place as a classic of American literature. It's not often you find that combination.
I must admit that the first time I read Huck Finn was from the public library whilst still a mere nipper. I thoroughly enjoyed it and when I started secondary school and we did Tom Sawyer I kept thinking why can't we do Huck? We all think of Huck as a children's book these days but I hope to change your thoughts on this. For children this is a boys own adventure and can still captivate a young person's mind, but as we get older we find that this isn't really how we would judge this book.
We know that nowadays we aren't allowed to use the language or have the views set forth here, and Huck only slowly starts to realise that a black slave is still a person, but that isn't the main issue. When we are little we see this as an adventure, indeed many of us have dreamt about going along the Missippi on a raft, but as we get older we begin to realise that ultimately this book is full of humour. Whether we are reading of Jim the slave's superstitions or the exploits of a couple of conmen you start to realise that this book is genuinely funny, and is a comedy classic in its own right. Because of this you never really grow out of this book, it grows with you and that is probably one of its reasons for its sustained popularity. Mark Twain hit upon something here that you can never really tire of, finding new things in it all the time. Also if you want to bond with your son then reading this together can help to some degree.
In this Puffin Classics edition you have an introduction by Darren Shan as well as extras at the back, which include more about Mark Twain, the characters in this book and a glossary, as well as some discussion questions.
on 12 February 2007
Some will argue it is the first and still the best American novel. I don't wish to dwell on this debate, only to review the novel from my personal view.
Huckleberry Finn as a character is an immensely human and lovable rogue. He is a far more complex character than Tom Sawyer, and the reader can relate much better to him throughout. His adventures with his black companion Jim are life-changing experiences, and the fact that he goes through them in childhood makes them ever so more poignant.
As a novel it is an enjoyable read, and a journey into a rich and varied landscape dotted with very real and unique characters. The plot is far deeper than a glance will tell, and Hucks relationship with his adult role models is just a start for delving deeper into the philosophy of this book.
Whichever level you read Huckleberry Finn at, it is enjoyable, funny and heart warming from beginning to end. The richness of the novel will consume even the most unimaginative reader, and if you can set aside the differences in social life of the 1860s, you will find a marvellous read. It should be read by all.
on 24 June 2015
I can add little to the volumes of criticism and explanation about this book but let's give editor Peter Coveney credit in this edition for a clear introduction to a work which has become an American myth. He does not refrain from lambasting the awful final section at Phelps's farm, where we are reintroduced to a ludicrously OTT Tom Sawyer and his off-key fantasy-land boy's adventures. Huck and Jim's journey, on the other hand, is through a nightmarishly real world of slavery, blood feuds, and squalid towns where dogs are doused in kerosene and set alight 'for fun', amongst other entertainments. Penguin has since reissued the book but grab a copy of this one if you can as Coveney and collaborator Richard Maxwell, who has compiled a splendid 'Further Reading' section, do full justice to what, until its regrettable home straight, is superb literature, a journey of moral and emotional growth as much as a breathlessly exciting ride down one of the world's greatest rivers in the company of two of American fiction's most persuasive characters.