Today, November 30, is the birthday of one Samuel Langhorne Clemens, better known to us as Mark Twain. I have only read a few of his books so far, but they are well worth reading.
Tom Sawyer is his semi autobiographical novel - at least, it’s set in the small town where he lived, though the name was changed from Hannibal to St Petersburg.
Tom does make an appearance in Huckleberry Finn, a much more serious novel about Tom’s friend Huck. Huck runs away from it all, with Jim, a slave, and the rest of the novel is a road story, though the road is the river, the Mississippi. It was turned into a musical, Big River, which I saw some years ago. It was very enjoyable, though it seems to have vanished. The novel has been dramatised many times, but also banned due to its supposed racism, though I can’t see it. If anything, it was anti-racism.
A Connecticut Yankee In King Arthur’s Court is a hilarious tale of an American with a good knowledge of technology who travels in time and manages to take over Arthur’s England and introduce high tech, along with newspapers and baseball. I have a first British edition which my sister bought me many years ago because she knew I loved Arthurian fiction. She didn’t know it was a first edition! It’s illustrated. I treasure it. Incidentally, there is a novel, Arthur, King, in which Arthur has to travel forward in time to World War II, to retrieve Excalibur and Merlin’s journal, both stolen by Mordred. While posing as a pilot(he learns to fly, just not to land) he befriends an American volunteer who has joined the British war effort as the U.S is not yet in the war. His friend is from Connecticut…
This story, too, has been filmed many times.
The one I reread most often is The Prince And The Pauper, in which the young boy who will become Edward VI finds himself out on the streets when he swaps places just for fun with a poor boy, Tom Canty, who looks exactly like him. This one has been filmed at least as many times as A Connecticut Yankee, and more recently, in a TV mini series. Disney did it, with Guy Williams as Miles Hendon, the man who protects the Prince, even though he doesn’t believe him. Errol Flynn played the role in the 1937 version - I’m rather fond of that one, which is charming. Oliver Reed did it too, with a teenage Mark Lester(Oliver!) as both boys and Charlton Heston as Henry VIII. It also, I think, was the template for all those stories with identical characters who swapped places.
Mark Twain was very much someone who would be considered a leftist today. He makes his point in Prince, Huckleberry Finn and Connecticut Yankee, and he was certainly an abolitionist and a supporter of women’s rights. I can’t help suspecting that if he was alive today he would be on social media with millions of followers and his satire would have driven President 45 crazy.
He was enthusiastic about science and technology, though he went bankrupt over an invention he invested in, a typesetting machine that had problems.
Over here in Australia, we remember that when he paid a visit to our country, he said of the Melbourne Cup that it had to be the only place where the nation stopped for a horse race.
Mark Twain was born during the appearance of Halley’s Comet in 1835 and always said he would go out with the comet. He was right - he died in 1910, during the next visit of the comet.
He has been a character in fiction; I saw him once in in a TV film of Phillip Jose Farmer’s first Riverworld novel(I also read the book) and once in that episode of Star Trek: The Next Generation, “Time’s Arrow” in which the android Data finds himself in the 19th century, where he meets Guinan, later to become the ship’s bartender. Mark Twain helps the other crew find Data, and has a great time doing it. In Riverworld, he is in the afterlife and building a river boat. (The premise is that everyone who dies is awakened on another planet, beside a huge river, and, if killed, simply turns up elsewhere along the river, so you never know who you will run into.)
You should be able to find much of his work for free on Project Gutenberg. Give it a go if you have missed out.
Meanwhile, happy birthday Mark Twain!