Dec 7, 2012

Huck and Jim on the Raft

I don't remember a time when I didn't know Huckleberry Finn.  He was everywhere in my childhood: in a tv series starring Michael Shea, in movies starring Eddie Hodges, Mickey Rooney, Jeff EastElijah Wood, Anthony Michael Hall, and Brad Renfro, in the musical Big River (left).








One Saturday afternoon in the mid-1970s, I saw a weird prepubscent version that reminded me of  Journey to the Beginning of Time . Later I discovered that it was a Russian adaption called Hopelessly Lost (1972).









By the time I was 10 or 11, I began accumulating editions of the novel at garage sales and library book sales, mostly those with cover art emphasizing physicality, broad shoulders and muscular arms gleaming in the late afternoon sunlight. 

I already imagined Huck and Jim escaping from their bondage like Will fleeing the Tripods, and now -- in an eternal now -- rafting slowly, lazily down the Mississippi, free from the pressures of school and "after school sports" and "someday you'll find a girl." The raft became their good place, where Huck and Jim could gaze into each other's eyes, hug, kiss, alone with each other forever. 

But the novel wasn't really about that.  Huck doesn't have any romantic interest in Jim -- he thinks of the escaped slave as a child who needs protection.

He does spend a lot of time evaluating masculine beauty: "Tall, beautiful men with very broad shoulders and brown faces";"men just in their drawers and undershirts, and resting their hands on their thighs easy and comfortable...I never seen anything so lovely."

And he tries to find a lasting romance,  twice.

First he meets and buddy-bonds with Buck, a boy involved in a Hatfield-McCoy feud. They sleep together and smile at each other, and Huck is adopted into his family.  But then he is killed in a feud, and Huck cries and moves on.

Then Tom Sawyer, his old friend from Hannibal. Huck invites Tom to  "come here and feel me."  He does, and "he was that glad to see me again he didn't know what to do."




But when Huck discovers that Tom's Aunt Sally intends to adopt him, he rebels, and decides to "light out for the Territory." It is unclear why  he accepts adoption by Buck's family but not by Tom's. Maybe because he finds Tom immature and annoying.  Or maybe because Aunt Sally wants to "sivilize" him, like Daisy Duck civilizes Donald and Poil civilizes Spooky,  teaching him poetry and etiquette and how to open a checking account.  Love, even homoromantic love, domesticates a man, ends his story with "and they lived happily ever after," and Huck's story must continue.  Or not a story, an image, an eternal now to hang onto when we are overwhelmed by the problems and constraints of life.

We must not remember anything that came before or after, just Huck and Jim, muscular bodies glistening in the sunlight,  as they raft lazily down the river.