Huckleberry Finn

Two sisters came bearing birthday gifts for Jackie today; first Shelly this morning; then Elizabeth this afternoon – also bringing scones, butter, and jam.

We enjoyed convivial conversations.

Between visits I finished reading and scanning the illustrations to Mark Twain’s iconic novel.

After dining on Ashleigh’s fish and chips; Heinz baked beans; Mrs Elswoods’s pickled gherkins; and Garner’s pickled onions, I reviewed the book, of which this is the illustrated title page:

In a journey with his older friend Jim along the Mississippi River, itself a major character in the book, Huck Finn spends every effort to carry the runaway slave to freedom. Both man and boy seek freedom, peace, and comfort. Huck has been adopted by a woman wishing to convert him from his carefree lifestyle to a more traditional middle class one; the “nigger” Jim wants to own himself rather than be valued at $800 to someone else, although he feels that is where he belongs.

They take off together on a raft, meeting various adventures involving a violent village where a lethal vendetta rages, and a man of public position is able to shoot another dead; a generous, friendly family; a gang hunting runaway slaves; a commercial vessel prepared to run down their boat. On each occasion Jim was forced to hide while Huck reconnoitred the scenes.

The story is a plea for non-violence, and above all an exposure of how the negro slaves are regarded as property to be bought and sold. As such we are shown that certain attitudes have not progressed in the intervening century and a half since the original 1883 publication. There have been a number of attempts in the 20th and 21st centuries to ban the book.

Written in the vernacular of the unlettered eponymous protagonist and the tongue of his black friend, the fluid prose of the book follows the calms and the storms of the river along which they travel. “Pretty soon it darkened up and begun to thunder and lighten; so the birds was right about it. Directly it begun to rain, and it rained like all fury, too, and I never seen the wind blow so. It was one of those regular summer storms. It would get so dark that it looked all blue-black outside, and lovely; and the rain would thrash along by so thick that the tree off a little ways looked dim and spider-webby; and here would come a blast of wind that would bend the trees down and turn up the pale underside of the leaves; and then a perfect ripper of a gust would follow along and set the branches to tossing their arms as if they was just wild; and next, when it was just about the bluest and blackest – fst! it was a bright as glory and you’d have a little glimpse of treetops a-plunging about, away off yonder in the storm, hundreds of yards further than you could see before; dark as sin again in a second, and now you’d hear the thunder let go with an awful crash and then go rumbling, grumbling, tumbling down the sky towards the under side of the world, like rolling empty barrels down stairs, where it’s long stairs and they bounce a good deal, you know” also gives examples of Twain’s simile and metaphor.

Colin Ward’s knowledgeable introduction is well written and helpful.

The pages including Harry Brockway’s muscular wood engravings contain further examples of Twain’s prose.

The header picture is of the boards and spine of my Folio Society edition.


    1. 🙂 We could, but Twain didn’t think it was a children’s book. Thanks very much, Linda

      1. Ha! Twain might not have considered it a childrens’ book, but my parents did. We had family read-alouds that included Huck before I was out of grade school. Of course, anything on my parents’ bookshelves were fair game for me, so I was reading Steinbeck and Twain in conjunction with Dr. Seuss.

  1. I enjoyed your descriptive review, Derrick. I remember parts of this book from many moons ago. It’s always interesting to revisit a book at an age when we have a better understanding. I must admit that I struggle to read books on slavery. People’s cruelty seemingly knows no bounds.

    1. Thanks very much, Alys. I would not have fully understood Huckleberry Finn when a boy

  2. It seems like yesterday I read this book, although I must have been around ten. In fact, I make passing mention of the other, Tom Sawyer, in my current manuscript, that is how much Twain’s writing has stayed with me.

  3. Gherkins and pickled onions? The eyes and joints may need attention but your digestion is clearly top notch. I’m afraid that, like so many books, I read Tom Sawyer and Huckleberry Finn when I was too young to fully understand or appreciate them and have never felt like going back to them. I keep thinking I should go back and re-read so many books, but I am not sure I ever will.

    1. Thanks very much, Quercus. Twain apparently said Huckleberry was not a children’s book. I wouldn’t have fully understood it when I was a boy.

      1. It is strange how some books that are quite unsuitable become “children’s classics”. I read various books in children’s versions and they put me off serious literature for ages – the Brontes, Gulliver’s Travels, Huckleberry Finn . . .
        That’s why I am stuck with Biggles, H Rider Haggard and Narnia.

  4. A great review of a great book, Derrick! Thank you!
    Reading it again as a young adult was more meaningful to me, even tho’ I did like reading it as a child. But, after growing up, the emotions I felt were even stronger. The relationship between Huck and Jim was even more touching to me. We all want and need to be needed and we all need someone to care about us/believe in us.
    Thank you for including pages with text and the artwork!
    (((HUGS))) ❤️❤️

  5. You’ve given me the urge to take this one off my shelf and give it another go. Sadly, mine doesn’t have the fabulous drawings.
    So stupid they keep trying to ban this book. I think it would be worse if they tried to “clean up” the language. It belongs in its time. It was the way it was, you can’t change that!

  6. A superb review of Huckleberry Finn, Derrick. I read the book years ago but I would probably have a different perspective if I read the book today.

  7. How fun to have guests bearing birthday gifts! Your descriptions of Huck Finn and accompanying pictures are fascinating! Eyesight is better, Derrick?

    1. Thanks very much, Jan. I’m still using Jackie’s reading glasses until my own are ready, otherwise fine for distance

  8. I have fond memories of my dad reading Huckleberry Finn to my brother and me when I was in fourth grade. It was a very early lesson in how to read and interpret literature.

  9. Another book I should probably re-read.
    The book banners would ban your copy for the cover illustration. The engravings are wonderful.

    How lovely for Jackie to have such an extended birthday celebration!

  10. My two comments from yesterday disappeared. Love Huck Finn. His father cussed everyone he could think of and then cussed them again in case he forgot anyone. That remark still amuses. Loved your review and illustrations. A new book from Jim’s point of view called James came out recently. It’s gotten good reviews.

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