- Whatever Happened to Huckleberry Finn? Four Recent Huck Finn Sequels
Mark Twain published two sequels to The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn. The first was Tom Sawyer Abroad (1894). The other was Tom Sawyer, Detective, published two years later. Previously, he’d begun a third installment, Huck Finn and Tom Sawyer among the Indians. He didn’t finish it.
Huck narrates both of Twain’s finished sequels. In Tom Sawyer Abroad, Tom, Huck, and Jim see a hot-air-balloon exhibition. They climb aboard the balloon, and its inventor, a professor, takes them on an unplanned trip across the United States and the Atlantic Ocean. The professor becomes unhinged, so in order to save the others, Tom murders him. The surviving trio takes the balloon to Egypt and sees the Sphinx. In Tom Sawyer, Detective, Tom and Huck solve the mystery of a lost twin and missing diamond. It is a short book. [End Page 175]
Neither sequel brings much to the Tom and Huck franchise that wasn’t there already. Both seem to have been written more out of a sense of obligation or need for money than an interest in expanding on or altering readers’ perception of the original. They are more Die Hard 2 than Gremlins 2, more Jaws: The Revenge than The Empire Strikes Back.
Other writers since Twain have adopted his characters as their own and put them to work in new sequels to Huck Finn—and it’s no mystery why. Huck Finn is not just any novel; it is an American epic, if there ever has been one. It is a book that does not recede with time, a classic that does not meet Twain’s description of “something that everybody wants to have read and nobody wants to read,” because lots of people have read it. If they haven’t read it because they wanted to, they were probably forced to read it in school.
Still, I was taken aback when it dawned on me at my local library that no fewer than three sequels to Huck Finn had been published in the last three years. Why, I wondered, have writers shown such interest lately in continuing a narrative that dates to 1884? We are not approaching a Huck Finn centennial.
The other hypothesis I put forward, prior to reading the new sequels, was that we are at a stage in history when people feel threatened by social upheaval. We are all more conscious than we have been at any time in recent memory of how we live at the mercy of the nation’s shortcomings, moral and otherwise. Very bad things appear to be on the horizon, as they were for Huck and Jim, rafting down the Mississippi not long before the Civil War. Like Huck aboard his raft with Jim, the good people of the here and now want to do the right thing and are doing their best while forces beyond our direct control seem to slouch their way to ruin and drag us with them. For this reason, maybe, writers have been reviving Huck, to create new stories that will tell us about ourselves and the land we inhabit.
The Boy in His Winter: An American Novel is the first of the newest Huck Finn sequels to be published and the first installment in Norman Lock’s American Novels series. Each novel in the series addresses the work of a prominent writer in American literature: Walt Whitman in American Meteor (2015); Henry David Thoreau in A Fugitive in Walden Woods (2017). The Boy in His Winter continues the narrative of Huck and Jim by extending their trip down the Mississippi. After the events that end Huck Finn, the two get back on the raft and resume floating south. [End Page 176]
The Boy in His Winter: An American Novel Norman Lock. Bellevue Literary Press, 2014, 190 pp., $14.95 (paper)
Lock’s Huck is a well-spoken Huck; the novel does not revive Twain’s use of dialect, which Huck deplores. He rebukes Twain for getting Jim’s speech and so many other things wrong; he is, as he tells the story, all too familiar...