Boozy Books: Huckleberry Finn

It’s Friday! I made sure I set an alarm for Friday, so I didn’t miss any more days. And since it’s Friday, that means it’s time for some booze and some books! Our signature entry.

I missed the chance to go all Americana last week. OK, so I turned the Shakespeare blog into a mini lesson on Robert E Lee (it connects, though, so that’s good), but I didn’t get to pick my America! Book. So I thought I’d do it this week, because America is awesome all year. And so is the author I’ve chosen: Mr. Samuel Clemens, aka Mark “Missouri” Twain. (Let’s get that Missouri thing going, shall we? I feel like either that or Mississippi River would be a great stage name for Twain. OK, forgetting that Mark Twain is sort of his stage name. You know what? Let’s just get to the book. This was a stupid idea, and you guys should never have made me do it.)

Mark Twain…aka one half of the slightly-embarrassing-for-self-critical-Americans American Experience at EPCOT in Orlando. The sassy half that spends the entire show smoking a cigar and chatting with Benjamin Franklin. As for the book I’ve chosen, well, it’s in the title, so that’s not much of a surprise. I suppose I could have gone for cheeky Tom Sawyer, but no…I think Huckleberry Finn is better and, really, more reflective of America. Why? Because it’s a novel with some serious controversy vis a vis race and race relations. Also, I like Huck as a character.

I think most of us know what the novel is about. Huck has an awful father (putting it mildly), a slightly manipulative scamp of a best friend, and a need to get out of his small town before he gets ‘sivilized’. Also, that father of his kidnaps him for his money and he’s forced to fake his death to get away. So he ends up on the Mississippi River on a raft, where he is joined by a runaway slave named Jim (problematic ‘first name’ redacted). During their adventures, Huck dresses up as a girl, ends up watching a family feud pretty much wipe out an entire family, and joins a couple of con men before his own conscience finally forces him to do the right thing. The hucksters (no pun intended) are dispatched, Jim ends up free, and Huck can finally go back home (even if Sally does still want to civilize) him. (And Tom Sawyer is still a bit of an asshole.)

If we chose On the Road because of the sheer American-ness of a road trip, then Huck Finn is a road trip when the rivers were the roads. The most important part of the story is not what happens, but the changes wrought upon Huck by these events. And highest on this list is his relationship with Jim, which is highlighted by a growing conflict between Huck’s socially imposed mores and his estimation of Jim as a friend and fellow human being. In the end, Huck determines that he will save Jim and free him, even though society has told him that a runaway slave is a criminal. He proves himself to be of stout heart and good character, which I think makes him worth estimation.

Now, there is some controversy surrounding this novel, but only because some people are not particularly good at getting past the trappings of a story to see the inner workings. Despite the use of the ‘N-word’ and the comedic manner in which Jim is sometimes treated, Huckleberry Finn is ultimately a condemnation of slavery. Jim is a good man with a kind heart and is shown as possessing more intelligence than a lot of the white characters, and eventually Huck comes to see his humanity first, his slave-status second. The novel is a polemic look at the hypocrisy of slavery and race relations in the 19th century. Keep in mind that Huck is kidnapped, badly treated, and isolated; we celebrate when he runs away, freeing himself from his abuse. But when Jim shows up, he is immediately condemned as a criminal for doing the exact same thing. The fact that he is, through Huck’s eyes, occasionally a stereotype is not, in any way, a statement from Twain on the inferiority of Jim/slaves. It is Huck’s story, and ultimately Huck comes to realize that the trappings of his society are problematic. Hopefully, America can come to a similar conclusion. After all, as Twain says, “a sound heart is a surer guide than an ill-trained conscience.”

Now, what to drink? Well…I should think that would be obvious. Huckleberry wine! Actually, I prefer Huckleberry mead, myself, because I’m a sucker for a good honey wine, but you can do what you wish. If the main character of the novel is a fruit, that fruit should show up in what you drink. It would be like not eating pudding while reading Pudd’nhead Wilson! Sacrilege! But, I have an alternate if your love is for Twain rather than for Huckleberry. In a letter to his wife, Twain described a cocktail he had discovered while in London, which he drank from a wine glass three times a day. That cocktail is found here. Make sure to drink it from a wine glass and, like, 9000 cigars. (Note: do not smoke as many cigars as Twain–it’s not a good idea.)

Where to buy the book:

http://www.amazon.com/Adventures-Huckleberry-Finn-Bantam-Classic/dp/0553210793

Where to buy the wine:

http://www.amazon.com/Hidden-Legend-Huckleberry-Mead-750/dp/B00GGNL0NG

So! That’s today’s Boozy Books! Tomorrow, the Bard returneth, and without Robert E. Lee.

-C

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