Monday, March 7, 2011

What I learned from Huck Finn.

Hi all! Just want to remind you to get your entries in to win a copy of Treasures of Carmelidrium by N.R. Williams.

Also, I just want to say that I am trying to get around to everyone, but am falling behind between work and writing. Please bear with me.

On with the post...

I read in blocks. Up to recently, I was hip-deep in murder-mysteries and procedurals. Strange really, how I love the genre, but never even thought of writing in it. Maybe one day I will. 


I'm now onto classics. First, I read The Sword in the Stone. On Saturday I finished Tom Sawyer (Again. Doesn't count as a reread to my mind because high school pupils apparently don't have the minds required to finish an unabridged book.) Yesterday, I tackled Huck Finn. 

Never before have I read a book as educational from a writer's point of view. Really? You may ask. 

Really, I answer. 

The book was pretty much a study of what should be done as well as (dare I say it?) what shouldn't. 

Here are the main lessons I learned. 

1)  Voice: From the very strange first introduction, I felt as if Huck was talking to my. Butchered English and all. But for once, I love that the language was mangled, because that's how he spoke. How he saw the world. Through Huck's word choices, I saw his view of the world, his rather interesting relationship with honesty and his cynicism. Nothing was explained about his character beyond what I knew from The Adventures of Tom Sawyer, but I felt like I knew Huck like an old friend by the time the book was done. Better even than I knew Tom. 

2)  Keep the story going. Every time Huck hit land, he had all sorts of adventures that showed him (and the reader) something. While these adventures could have frozen the story, there was always that escape to the river that meant that we would soon be faced with a new situation. And almost all of those adventures lead Huck to build a closer friendship with Jim. Because in the end, everything leads up to the climax where Huck has to decide whether he will help Jim escape of give him up into slavery again.

3)  Build the stakes. The stakes here involved Jim's escape and Huck's decision with regards to that. He's beating himself up because he knows that what he does is wrong in his frame of reference (where people were seen as property), but we know that he isn't the sort that turns his back on a friend. How will he decide?

4)  DO NOT SELL OUT AT THE END!!! I'm not really going to go into this too much, as some of you might not have read the book and I won't spoil the ending. Still, if you still want to read this book, I suggest you skip over the next paragraph.

I must say that Twain got away with murder at the end. I mean, who of us mere mortals would have survived the critics after wiping out all of the stakes and most of the impetus to the story? Why put us through the torture of Tom Sawyer's seemingly warped logic? I mean, they could have been killed. FOR NOTHING! I'm going to risk saying that he had a completely different (perhaps more tragic) ending in mind, but ended up bending to what he thought the public would want.

Perhaps what I learned most, is that one should strive to create characters that creep so deep into readers' hearts that they don't mind the imperfections so much. Because, oh yes, this was not a technically perfect novel.

But in every way that mattered to my literary heart, The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn was pretty much there.  

So what do you think? If you didn't read Huck Finn yet, have you ever read a book that taught you a lot. How-to's don't count. ;-)

If you have read The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn, what do you think of what I learned? In particular, what do you think of point 4? Have I missed anything?  


  1. I must read that book. I have read excerpts and enjoyed what I read. These days I read books with exactly that in mind to learn the writing process. If a book is good I almost forget the stages because I get so absorbed. :O)

  2. I have to admit that I may be the only American who hasn't read this American classic. I did, however, recently read the classic To Kill A Mockingbird and thoroughly enjoyed it.

  3. I remember really enjoying Huck as a child, but I think it's due a reread, as the details are pretty hazy now :)

  4. It's been a looooong time since I read it. Hmmmm, maybe I need to pick it up again.

  5. Like some others, it's been too long since I read this book. I love this idea though of rereading classics. I'm sure they have a lot to teach us--both positive and negative! :)

  6. I loved Huckleberry Finn, though it's been a lot of years, so the ending is murky. For me though, part of what I loved was the clear lesson in how sometimes the person seen as 'wrong' by society was the one who was right, even when he didn't quite know himeself. It was BRILLIANCE in its subtext.

  7. I've read parts of this book but not the whole thing. Twain definitely does a great job creating voice. I

  8. Great points! Especially that last one about selling out at the end. I think the very best books are those I not only enjoy reading, but I also learn from. And I *loved* Sword in the Stone!

  9. Well done...

    It's been ages since I've read it... Still pertains to all of us even in this century.

  10. Quo Vadis by Henryk Sienkiewicz is a book that I recently read that was heavy on detail. I loved it. I was never sure how detailed an author could get. Sienkiewicz spent a couple whole chapters on details. Granted, the chapters were small. However, it did show me how important descriptive detail is.

  11. I read Huck Finn awhile ago and don't remember everything, but I remember the voice sticking out to me a lot too. I also read in blocks! I read a certain genre, it seems, til I get sick of it. Then I venture on to something else, but always come back to genres I got fixated on before.

  12. I need to reread it...along with countless others. I also love to read mysteries, but have yet to write one. I WANT TO THOUGH! christy

  13. I need to reread it too. I can't remember how it ends! Lol. Oh well. Those are EXCELLENT lessons, you pointed out there too! Great stuff the remember!

  14. I read it for school way back in the dark ages. I can't remember the ending, but I loved the adventures and I loved the way the characters thought and spoke.

  15. It's been ages since I read it. May be time for a reread. Seems most novels are technically imperfect, but something comes across loud and clear. I think it's what you said, the character and the pov.

  16. I remember when I read it, I rewrote the end the way I wanted it. I don't remember the actual ending, but mine made me happy. The fact that I did that, means I didn't like it, but thought the rest of the book rocked.
    I was a strange kid. Then I grew up.

  17. It's been so long since I read it, I don't remember the end. But your excellent critique makes me want to go back and take a look again!!

    Keep the story going. Yes. Story is KING!! I do remember that Twain did this SO well!!!

  18. I enjoyed Huck as a child. Your post is making me eager to re-read it.

    Keep the story going. That is extremely important.

  19. Great analysis! I've often thought about going back and reading those books (and others from HS days.) Huck Finn or Tom Sawyer might be a good place to start! Thanks for the idea!

  20. Madeleine, that happens with me too. In fact, tend to give up before I start, because I know that I will forget to pay attention. This post was the result of me going all the way through and thinking: How the devil did he do it?! ;-)

    Laura, me too! I think To Kill a Mockingbird was what started me off on this new trend... :-)

    Friday, I think I would if I were you. Tom Sawyer was completely different between when I read it first and now. No doubt, you will find Huck Finn to be a world of differences. :-)

    If you do, Bish, let me know what you think. :-)

    Oh Lesley, they do! I'm on Oliver Twist now. So much to learn. :-)

    I agree with you, Hart, that's why I think that the story was about his choice between his right and society's right. I loved that aspect to it. But I think there's a reason why you forgot the end...

    Patti, he was brilliant at it. In fact, I feel safe to say that he was one of the masters.

    I loved it too, Danyelle. I'm going to start with the rest of The Once and Future King after Oliver Twist, The Great Gatsby and Anna Kerenina. :-D Can't wait.

    Thanks Michael! I think that Huck Finn will remain timeless. I hope to Heaven it does. :-)

    Barbara, I would love to read Quo Vadis!

    Allison, I also go back to the genres I left. In fact, I already have a murder mystery waiting for me set in imperialist Russia. Myster+Period Drama = Epic Win. ^_^

    Me too, Christy. Maybe I will. After the Beast. And the Historical. And the paranormal/dystopian. And the Beast's sequels... ;-P

    Colene, funny you should say that. I think that I will also forget the end one day. It just didn't feel like part of the book. :-)

    Hahaha Lynda you sounded like my mom. ;-) I love the way the characters thought and spoke. In fact, it took me a while after I finished to get my thinking back to normal English.

    M, I also tend to remember characters and pov before plot and action. :-)

    Hahahahahah Tanya. *sneaks a look around* I did the same when I finished the book. ;-)

    Wow thanks Ann! I agree, Twain is brilliant with story if he wants to be. I just wish he didn't mangle the final portion of Huck Finn.

    Rachna, I can't imagine getting the same experience out of Huck Finn as a child, so I say you can't go wrong with the reread. In fact, I'm starting to consider rereading all of the classics I read when I was small. :-)

    Thanks Joanne! If you do go rereading, let me know what you think. :-)

  21. I read it in college, and I have to admit that I think "Fine then, I'll go to Hell!" is probably one of the best lines in American literature.

    Don't feel bad about hating the ending, I think everyone does. Even Twain. Apparently he put off publication as long as he could and was never satisfied with the ending.

    But I'm not sure America was ready for Jim to adopt Huck and them move into the woods as a family (which is how I think it should have ended).

    Love how you broke this down!

  22. I agree! If the book ended right after those words, I would have been happier.

    Well... I would have died wondering what became of Jim, but it would have been better than seeing him forced into becoming a comedic character.


  23. My teacher read Huck Finn to my class in sixth grade, so it looks like I missed out on some literary merit here. I like what you say about the voice though, how we don't get a whole lot of new information persay, but the proof is in the pudding, or, the character is in the action. Makes me want to read it again :)

  24. Thanks Christine. I'm glad you liked what I said. :-)


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