Thursday, September 17, 2009

Review: The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn (Case Studies in Critical Controversy) by Mark Twain

Title: The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn (Case Studies in Critical Controversy)
Author: Mark Twain, edited by Gerald Graff and James Phelan
Copyright: 2003
Publisher: Bedford/St. Martin's
ISBN: 0312400292


Not the Perfect Story; but Certainly the Perfect Edition - 5 stars - a book review

I've always said if a book has been banned and I haven't read it, I must be doing something wrong. Luckily enough, I had read The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn before, and for the life of me I couldn't remember what the big deal was (outside of the obvious) (I was in Junior High at the time, some 12 years ago). I was taking an English class for fun at the university I work for and this was the first text on the reading list. The theme of the class is "racism in American culture and American literature." The reason I mention this is not because of the content of the story The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn but rather the "bonus features," such as they are, that are included.

The "Case Studies in Critical Controversy" edition of The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn includes the following (in addition to the original 1885 text):
  • A wonderful introduction about the importance of studying controversies;
  • A portfolio of the original illustrations included with the 1885 edition;
  • Twenty essays "representing major critical and cultural controversies surrounding the work" (from the back cover) over three subject matters: the controversy over the ending; the controversy over racism; and, the controversy over gender and sexuality. These essays include:
    • Lionel Trilling, "A Certain Formal Aptness";
    • T.S. Eliot, "The Boy and the River: Without Beginning or End";
    • Toni Morrison, "Jim's Africanist Presence in Huckleberry Finn" (New to this edition);
    • Jane Smiley, "Say It Ain't So, Huck: Second Thoughts on Mark Twain's "Masterpiece"";
    • Seymour Chwast, "Selling Huck Finn Down the River: A Response to Jane Smiley";
    • Leslie Fiedler, "Come back to the Raft Ag'in, Huck Honey!";
    • Christopher Looby, "'Innocent Homosexuality': The Fiedler Thesis in Retrospect"; and,
    • Several other essays, many of which have been reproduced in other editions of The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn.

With this edition clocking in at 550 pages, nearly 60% of the text is additional material regarding controversy in The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn. As my instructor said on the first day, "Everyone has their own opinions; but, leave them at the door. All I want to hear are facts." This edition has plenty of well research and comprehensive information for all sides of each controversy. Many of the essays are linked, being responses to each other. I believe oftentimes we, as a culture, forget that sometimes the discussion about the controversy is more important than the actual controversy. Reading this text is an important educational lesson, and if parents, teachers, and school children read The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn in the context of this edition it certainly would not be banned and I think we would all be more proud of our children for the level of discourse and behavior when engaging in controversial debate.

Granted, this is the only edition of The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn I have read (since I was 15 years old); but, I can't ever imagine myself recommending any other edition for any other reason.

Good reading,

Plants and Books
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