I decided to read your book to my children last week. You know, the classic novel you wrote that captured 19th century boyhood with charm, wit and mischeif. I wanted my kids to have an adventure with Tom and Huck. I wanted them to know about what life was like back when days were not dictated by Miley Cyrus and iCarly. “The good ole days.” That’s what they were. I thought it would be a good idea to introduce my children to the children of your alter ego – Mark Twain.
I read yourbooks myself as a kid. I loved them. I remember adoring the love/hate between Tom and Becky, the thrill of the chase between Tom, Huck and the robbers and the awe at their receipt of $6,000 for capturing the bad guys. 6 thousand smackers! That was the largest sum of money I could fathom. And I wanted my children to experience the thrill of a great story…a piece of Americana.
However, my dear Mr. Twain…er, Clemens – can I call you Sam or perhaps, Mark? Sam? Okay. However, Sam, it appears that I had forgotten the nature of your writing. Your words, so eloquent in your time, were a bit more than my children could decipher. For instance, this sentence spoken by dear Aunt Polly had my poor children so puzzled I fear they will never allow me to pick out a book to read them again:
“He ‘pears to know just how long he can torment me before I get my dander up, and he knows if he can make me out to put me off for a minute or make me laugh, it’s all down again and I can’t hit him a lick.”
My goodness, Sam, even I had to stop and think about that one for a minute. We made it one chapter into your lovely novel before I realized that the kids eyes had glazed over and they were no longer listening to a word I said. They didn’t even get the fact that Tom had just whooped the big stranger on the path back to his house. You know, the boy he “‘lowed” to ‘”lay” for. That one. Yeah, they missed that. Crazy, huh?
There’s also the tiny issue of political correctness – a term that I am certain you would despise were you alive today. I simply cannot, in good conscience, Sam, read the slave Jim’s true character name as you wrote it so many years ago. It was an acceptable term then (acceptable to some, of course)…now, however, it just isn’t a word that needs to be used. Someday, when they’re older and can comprehend the beauty of your novels and they can understand the context in which they were written, I’m sure it will be fine for them to hear (or read for themselves) about Jim and his great escape from slavery by Huck’s side. But now, when they are too young to understand and too indescreet not to use certain words in public, I simply wouldn’t be able to read your novel in it’s purest form. And that seems unfair to you. And to them. And, honestly, to Huck and Jim.
So forgive me, dear Mr. Clemens, if I put this book back on the shelf of a few more years. Forgive me if I show them the movies made of your iconic tales instead. I want to inspire their imaginations, Sam, I really do. But they can’t be inspired under such educational duress. I did find, today, this book, which has been edited and abridged specifically for children. It only tells a piece of the story, but it does introduce them to the scrappy Tom, a character I so loved growing up. I think I will give it a try…you know, when they’ve had time to forget how utterly and completely bored and confused they were the first time I introduced Tom and Huck.
Don’t take it personally, Sam. I still love your books and I still plan to expose my children to your iconic tales. But I’m sure you understand that it’s better to give them a love for literature, not an absolute dread. Thanks for your books. Thanks for your imagination. Sorry it didn’t work out this time around.
A literature nerd who forgot that sometimes classics are not neccesarily proper for young children