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We’re Rolling Down the River With All This Trivia About Mark Twain’s Works 

June 22, 2023

By Brian Boone

One of our favorite and best volumes here at Canterbury Press is a leather-bound edition of the best works of the pre-eminent 19th century American novelist and humorist Mark Twain. As you prepare your own summer adventures, check out these stories behind Twain’s most famous works. 

Huckleberry Finn is based on a real person. 

Mark Twain (real name: Samuel Clemens) grew up in the small Mississippi River town of Hannibal, Missouri, where one of his friends growing up was a local rogue named Tom Blankenship. The son of a notorious “town drunk” type, Blankenship, like Huck Finn was similarly neglected and scrappy. Twain admitted the inspiration in his autobiography, but later told a reporter that Huckleberry Finn was based on several Hannibal figures he knew in his younger years. 

Mark Twain popularized American novels and sequels. 

The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn made history as one of the first truly American novels — written in conversational, American English (and dialects) as opposed to the elevated, flowery prose style of British literature. Because Tom Sawyer arrives late in the novel, Huckleberry Finn is also one of the first sequels in American literary history, a follow-up to The Adventures of Tom Sawyer, in which Huck was also a major character.  

Tom Sawyer was a big deal. 

Twain clearly enjoyed the idea of a sequel, or realized he had a franchise going. After these two literary classics, he wrote a few more follow-ups about the inexplicable further adventures of Tom and Huck. In Tom Sawyer, Abroad, the duo rides a state of the art hot air balloon to Africa and fight off criminals and bloodthirsty lions; in Tom Sawyer, Detective, the pair solves a murder that takes place in a bordello. 

They’ve been banning Huckleberry Finn forever. 

Over the last four decades or so, The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn has been one of the most often banned or challenged books in libraries and public-school systems. Most often, the controversy arises from the frequent use of the n-word (it’s part of the name of main character Jim, an escaped slave), but in 1885 — a year after it was first published — Twain’s novel received its first ban. Authorities in Concord, Massachusetts removed it from shelves because it was considered “trash” and “suitable only for the slums.” 

The princely delights of writing about paupers. 

Twain’s 1881 novel The Prince and the Pauper takes place in 1547 and satirizes the stratified class system. The main characters are the economically destitute Tom Canty of Offal Court in London and Prince Edward VI of England — and they agree to switch places to see how the other half lives. Twain got the idea for a work set in old-timey Europe after a wildly successful speaking tour of the continent that encouraged him to voraciously read up on English history. He planned to make The Prince and the Pauper, a play set in the Victorian era, before deciding to set it in the mid-1500s and write it as a novel instead. Twain got so excited about writing The Prince and the Pauper that he abandoned work on Huckleberry Finn, for which he’d already written 400 pages. 

A Connecticut Yankee led to some anarchy in the U.K. 

Twain was very popular in Europe, and while he set The Prince and the Pauper in England, he didn’t fare as well with his next attempt at a British historical novel. In 1889, A Connecticut Yankee in King Arthur’s Court flopped and caused some outrage among critics and authorities. It’s a thorough and satirical takedown of English mythology (King Arthur and the Knights of the Round Table, and its “age of chivalry setting) and how Twain thought the English romanticized history — which, in the case of King Arthur, may not have even been real.  

The Adventures of Tom Sawyer, The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn, The Prince and the Pauper, A Connecticut Yankee in King Arthur’s Court, and The Tragedy of Pudd’nhead Wilson all appear in full in our Mark Twain treasury, and it’s available now. 

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