The following review appeared 16 February 2002 on the Mark Twain Forum.
Copyright © 2002 Mark Twain Forum
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Fort Valley State University
Stephen Stewart should be admired for his courage in tackling this project, if not for his literary skills. Stewart reprints a few pages (seventy-three) of Twain's draft for a sequel to Adventures of Huckleberry Finn ("Huck Finn and Tom Sawyer Among the Indians," previously published by University of California Press) and grafts onto it a yarn that sends Huck and Tom across the prairies, where they narrowly escape an Indian massacre, to the mountains, where they attend the annual rendezvous of the mountain men. The novel is sometimes lyrical, occasionally funny, but frequently confounding.
Confounding throughout are Stewart's attempts to imitate Twain's dialect narration. The charitable reader might suggest that while Twain writes dialect for the ear, Stewart writes dialect for the eye. Twain, for example, probably would not write "patients" for "patience" because the pronunciations are indistinguishable. Nor would he write "rondezvous" for "rendezvous." Homophonic misspellings do nothing to advance the cause of dialect narration, and they reveal a different sort of illiteracy than any with which Twain ever saddled Huck. Aside from the misspellings, Stewart's Huck has somehow picked up the modern misuse of the apostrophe for forming simple plurals. He writes, for example, that big bore Hawken rifles are necessary for "such large animals as the Buffalo's, and Bear's, and Elk's, and Moose's." There are sentence fragments aplenty, and not just in the dialogue. There are also a disconcerting number of commas and semicolons sprinkled randomly through the pages, enough so that academic admirers of Twain will probably begin to write "collaborations" on Pudd'head Wilson's calendar entries and Twain's real and apocryphal aphorisms: "Use the right punctuation mark, not its second cousin." All of these flaws--none of them found in Twain's original--add up to an amateurish imitation of Huck Finn's endearing dialect narration. In Twain we hear Huck's voice; in Stewart we see his freshman writing.
Anachronisms abound. Huck jokes about Istanbul, not Constantinople. Brace Johnson gets Huck and Tom's attention by calling out "you guys," though Stewart forgets to use quotation marks. Huck wonders about "Wicca;" Tom and Huck nearly trick Jim into eating a bowl of maggots that he thinks is actually a bowl of orzo. Huck, obviously distracted by Peggy Mills' breasts while describing what's for supper, stutters over Peggy's "nice pair of,-- pair of, pair of . . . onions." When a mountain man teaches Huck and Tom how to stay alive in Indian country, Huck asks, "Is there going to be a test on this?" Huck says the Indians have an army song, and "one about eagles that they called their air force song." (They were probably a band of H.G. Welles Sioux.)
Perhaps the most annoying feature of Stewart's book is his misuse of familiar and beloved characters. For example, Huck's "surrogate father," Jim, has a minor part in the sequel, but the fully human, caring runaway slave of Huck's raft has been replaced by the ignorant darky of Huckleberry Finn's problematic ending. Jim, whom Huck seems to forget altogether for weeks at a time, is here reduced to the stereotypical pre-raft and post-raft "nigger": He is no more human than the slave on whom Huck and Tom play their tricks in the beginning of Huckleberry Finn or than the captured "runaway," who must spend long days locked in a smokehouse while Tom plays out his elaborate--and completely unnecessary--plan for Jim's "escape." As the pre-raft Jim of the original carries a "magic" hair ball from the stomach of an ox, the Jim of the sequel carries a dried "rhinos" [sic] ear, which, Huck says, is "really just "a sows [sic] ear we cut a cross in . . . [then] rotted in catfish guts for a few weeks . . . . [then] sent to Jim in the mail . . . saying it was from one of Jim's anzesters in Africa." The pre- and post-raft Jim might be superstitious enough to believe in the ear's power, but the Jim of the raft, whose powers of critical thinking unraveled even the wisdom of Solomon, would not likely believe that his African "anzesters" could locate him in Missouri and mail the ear with a full set of user's instructions in English for Tom Sawyer to read out.
Of course, believable characterization and character growth are two of the most difficult aspects of the novelist's craft, and beginning by necessity with characters created by another writer must magnify the difficulties. Still, Twain scholars and admirers will be surprised at Huck's rather sudden--and not at all endearing--loss of innocence. Early in the novel, Huck, Tom, and Jim throw in their lot with the Mills family, seven pioneers from Missouri, who are awaiting the arrival of Brace Johnson, seventeen-year-old Peggy Mills' fiancee, before heading for Oregon. The entire group befriends a band of five very Cooperesque Indians camped nearby. In Chapter 3, written by Twain, Huck and Tom lose all their new friends and Jim to these same Indians, who wipe out the Mills family, sparing only the nubile Peggy and her seven-year-old sister, Flaxy, whom they kidnap along with Jim. Twain's Huck (in Chapter 3) does not pass on to the reader Tom's description of their friends' mutilated bodies because "it would not do to put [it] in a book." Stewart's Jim later gives us a detailed description, which Huck passes along without comment or apparent qualms, of the repeated gang rape of a settler woman, Becky, by a band of Indians. Twain's Huck is baffled for several chapters by Brace Johnson's sincere hope that his kidnapped fiancee, Peggy, is dead. Huck has no notions of a fate worse than death, and his innocence calls into question a racist and sexist society's views on female chastity and value. Stewart's Huck later refers casually to the gang rape and near the end of the sequel, back in slaveholding Missouri, cheerfully plans a trip to a brothel with Tom and Jim. The loss of Huck's innocence is the real fate worse than death in the sequel, because lost with it is the narrative dimension that made Adventures of Huckleberry Finn the seminal work it was.
There are some things to admire in this "collaboration." For example, Twain introduces Huck and Tom to a man selling lucifer matches. Tom's penchant for devilment induces him to buy not only the matches, but also the flammable raw ingredients. Stewart's Tom later incorporates the matches, the raw materials, and Jim's rhino ear into a magical "dance" he teaches the Indians. Stewart's description of Tom's planning and performance is genuinely funny, and blamed if it don't sound like Huck Finn hisself. Much of the dialect does sound like Huck Finn, despite the many lapses. As Stewart's Huck, Tom, and Brace Johnson travel toward rendezvous, Huck describes the plains and the mountains in passages that approach the lyricism of Twain's Huck describing the natural world of the raft. Stewart's Huck hilariously deflates Cooperesque romanticism in describing the Indian camp at rendezvous: The smell of the camp is "like a stink bomb, which you couldn't see a-coming, so it was tear-jerking, stifling, stark, and breathtaking, and choke provoking, and a real gag-n-retch inspiring of the unpleasantest sort." The Indians dance and sing around the campfire, performing "It's A Shame We Didn't Kill Them; and . . . as lovely a rendition of; Slaughter Thy Neighbor, as [Huck] ever heard . . . followed by another, and maybe everybody's favorite, Sneak Attack, which was very moving." Clearly, these are not Cooper Indians.
Deflating Cooper is funny, and one of the Twain reader's favorite spectator sports. There is, however, a heavy-handed, simplistic, and misguided didacticism in this "collaboration," manifested in a singularly unrealistic way. Characters invented by Stewart deliver long speeches that one can scarcely imagine from the pen of Mark Twain. A black settler named "PJ's," for example, speechifies uninterrupted for nearly three pages; despite his folksy, backwoods delivery, PJ's seems to have a late twentieth century grasp of Native American and African American history. Later, in one of the scenes that make this "collaboration" seem more like a hijacking, Tom Sawyer holds forth for four pages on such topics as "necromancy," "culture diffusion," "contrariety born of fear," and "unsound magical beliefs of insubstantial specious phantasms." After Huck, clearly with his "class participation" grade in mind, asks a question nearly as far out of character as Tom's lecture, Tom continues for another page, utterly and completely solving the entire Indian question. Incredibly, a group of mountain men listen closely enough to ask questions afterward.
Tom's seminar is a good example of the unrealistic way in which Stewart uses characters to teach his readers their lessons. The scene rankles, particularly because Twain's readers are unlikely to accept the insensitive Tom Sawyer as the friend of the Native American. In Adventures of Huckleberry Finn, Tom toys with Jim's life to the end, endangering Jim, Huck, and himself so he can spin out a plot borrowed from Dumas. Not incidentally, his fun keeps the emancipated Jim locked in a smokehouse; Tom knows that Jim has been freed, but has no idea what freedom could mean to Jim because he has no understanding of Jim as a human being. In the sequel he toys with the lives of the Indians. The ghostly "dance" Tom teaches the Sioux at rendezvous seems well-intentioned, a device to draw the endangered Plains tribes together, but like so many white programs for "bettering" the people of the plains, it has, outside the novel, disastrous results. Tom Sawyer seems to have all the answers, but Tom Sawyer never saw the photographs from Wounded Knee, the corpses in their "magical"--and supposedly bulletproof--Ghost Dance shirts . . . . Tom Sawyer turns up like Little Big Man at a pivotal moment in Native American history to trick the Plains Indians into following a religion that history tells us would end in disillusionment and slaughter. It is a sweeping irony, unimaginably greater in scope than a freed slave locked in a smokehouse, yet it passes without comment from the characters or the author, and Tom Sawyer's seminar, which explains his motive for inventing the dance, does not at all seem intended ironically. Is this irony, then, a Stewart blunder? Or a stroke of real, chilling genius? The reader may choose.
Despite its flaws, this novel is not without interest for admirers of Mark
Twain. Whether a few chapters of Twain are alone worth the price of admission
is arguable, but seventy-three pages of Twain's prose lay the groundwork for
a story that has moments of excitement, humor, and truth. Of course, Mark Twain
long ago attained the status of a national treasure, and as many a First Lady
has learned, redecorating a national treasure invariably draws fire. My own
initial response to the sequel reminded me of a famous British Hamlet who heard
another voice accompanying him during a "soliloquy" and looked down
in the front row at the moving lips of Sir Winston Churchill. Every Hamlet knows
he will be measured against Olivier, Gielgud, Burton, and Jacobi, and Stewart
will of course be measured against Twain. But if failing to reach Mark Twain's
level of genius were a flogging offense, who should escape whipping?