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The Further Adventures of Huckleberry Finn by Greg Matthews

Huckleberry Finn
 
"The real Eldorado is still farther on . . .  '
 
-Peck's 1837 New Guide to the West
 
BY BAINE KERR
 
"1 been there before," Huck Finn says at the end of his book, referring to Aunt Sally and her "sivilizing" him, referring to everything upstream on the river. "I reckon I got to light out for the territory ahead..."

Huckleberry Finn is a model western novel: with its hero a lad of the frontier, with its mythic dimension — the River — flowing from the heartland of our native psyche, with its search for a native sensibility (derived from the place, not a social superstructure), its journey of discovery, and, in a way, its failure of resolution. Twain invokes the territory ahead. The ends are open, the mysteries still mysterious. A quality shared by most western writing and a damn good reason for dipping deeply into it: the prospect of the territory ahead.

You can almost view any western book as an extension of the last page of Twain's novel: Huck raving and rafting in southeast Utah (Desert Solitaire - EPILOG p. 658), Huck at Yosemite (Muir), Huck as played by Brando in One Eyed Jacks, Huck at the Alamo. .. Twain left us with a beautiful idea when we finished his book in high school: Huck Finn lighting out into the territory to every kind of adventure and perception the imagination can sustain.  And it seems just about all western writing partakes of that idea, deals with striking out on, or against, the land for the unattainable thing.

The six books below are selected from Huck's library because they are, as mentioned, recent personal favorites and because I think they make an appetizing introduction to the whole sumptuous field. Each is -utterly different; none very widely read. Read together (which, if I may urge, I urge you to do), they compose a fairly complete portrait of the West: from the 1860's to the 1970's; covering ground in almost every western state (and Mexico); and involving such heroes as miners, cowboys, railroad men, engineers, a naturalist, an Eastern gentlewoman, a Pueblo Indian, a lost lady . .. Four are novels, two not. Half written before 1923, half in the last 15 years. All are good, easy reading (except Momaday's, perhaps the best of the lot). All are damn fine books, and all deal differently with the great western theme, the territory ahead.

Though written twelve years before Huck Finn was published. Roughing It's voice is that of a Huck in his late twenties. Twain narrates an incredible string of incidents that putatively happened to him during five years' rambling in the West. The itinerary traces an overland stage journey through the plains, through the badlands, to Mormon Utah, to Nevada where he mined silver and worked as a reporter, finally to California, poverty in San Francisco, and bootless gold mining. The format is that of a travelogue, but one that ventures into regions never dreamt of by Francis Parkman, or Hunter Thompson for that matter.

Here Twain has perfected western humor, with stock characters in the southern style (but without racism — he loves the Chinese and defends them like an out raged radical; the Goshute Indians fare less well), and with the straightfaced tall tale, where fact blends into outlandish fiction and there is no way of distinguishing the two. No plot, and therefore slow in places, but worth the trip for the amazing tales dropped along the way. Among them:

Little essays on the jackrabbit ("Long after he was out of sight we could hear him whiz"), the coyote ("a living, breathing allegory of Want").

Bemis and the Buffalo: It had chased Bemis two miles then treed him — " 'Presently a thought came into the bull's eye. I knew it! said I — if my nerve fails now I am lost. Sure enough it was just as I had dreaded, he started in to climb the tree —' "

Slade, the most valiant, violent guntoting hombre in the West, with whom Twain nervously shared the last cup of coffee in the pot. Brigham Young and the tin whistles (to this day Mormons claim that Twain's disparagement of their forefathers grew out of a meeting with imperious Young. Young supposedly joked about Twain's short stature and in Roughing It, they say, Twain was spitefully trying to pay him back).

Silver Fever - the heart of the story (about two thirds of the book takes place in Nevada), surely is the best account of bonanza times in the West ever written.

 

ISBN: 0517550571

Order it now from Amazon.com!