Friday, April 04, 2008

Book Review 2: Adventures of Huckleberry Finn

Another book review, and another children's classic.

This time its one of the greats of American literature: the Adventures of Huckleberry Finn. Unlike The Adventures of Tom Sawyer I'd never read it as a kid so came to it fresh.

Its a very different animal - less fanciful and much more real. Indeed Tom himself at the end of the story can only be described as a pain, as his fancies - which Tom himself doesn't fully understand - obstruct the urgent mission to free the escaping slave Jim. You can see why Hemingway said you should stop well before the end.

At the heart of the book are two things. Firstly the relationship between Huck and Jim, and secondly the great river of the Mississippi.

Both are warm and natural, unspoilt by the modern age, and both tell the tale of America in the mid 19th century. Its a time of riven by the curse of slavery, and you can understand how from this background race has cast such a dark shadow over American history. One of the great passages of the book is when Huck battles with his conscience about whether or not to help free Jim, actually fearing he will be sent to hell if he helps a good man escape.

While the people are enthralled by the destructive inhumanity of the slave trade, the landscape is as yet unscared. The banks of the Mississippi that Captain Sam Clemens knew so well are thick with woods and the sky is full of stars and the most magical moments are those that simply tell of Jim and Huck's journey downriver on the raft.

For it is on the river that the boy and his surrogate father are free.

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