The Adventures of Tom Sawyer

A Copy of "The Adventures of Tom Sawyer" from The Osborne Collection

When I first met my father-in-law (and fellow blogger) Owen Gray, I was a little intimidated. He is a well-educated, well-mannered, and well-spoken man with a deep “radio voice” and a very firm handshake. If he had been any taller I am afraid I might have run away. However, he quickly put me at ease by reciting the introduction to one of his favourite books.  In an excellent 19th Century, rural-Mississippi accent he performed the first few sentences of The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn, by Mark Twain:

You don’t know about me without you have read a book by the name of The Adventures of Tom Sawyer; but that ain’t no matter.  That book was made by Mr. Mark Twain, and he told the truth, mainly.  There was things which he stretched, but mainly he told the truth.  That is nothing.  I never seen anybody but lied one time or another, without it was Aunt Polly, or the widow, or maybe Mary.[i] 

Over the holidays I had the opportunity to ask family and friends what their favourite books were when they were children. I assumed that Owen would say that The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn was one of his but I decided to ask him anyway and to my surprise, he told me he didn’t like The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn at all when he was young.

When he was twelve he read The Adventures of Tom Sawyer and liked it so much that he sought out The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn (the subtitle of which is Tom Sawyer’s Comrad) didn’t finish reading it. As an adult, however, he had to read it for an American Literature course in university and he liked it so much he found himself laughing out loud.

He asserts, for several reasons—I won’t get into in detail here—that The Adventures of Tom Sawyer is a book for children and The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn is a book for adults. Briefly though, he did compare Tom Sawyer to Anne Shirley, from Anne of Green Gables, by Lucy Maud Montgomery: Tom and Anne are both bright, adventurous, and at times, mischievous. Ultimately, though, they are good-at-heart and destined to become a pillar of their society. Huckleberry Finn, on the other hand, is a less romantic figure and his story is less nostalgic than Tom Sawyer’s.

It is hard to say exactly what makes a story for children, as opposed to one that was written for adults; I imagine because the definition of a children’s story changes as society and our understanding of childhood changes. The Adventures of Tom Sawyer was written more than a century ago, about a boy who grows up in Missouri, in the 1840s. In this case, however, Twain wrote in the preface:

Although my book is intended mainly for the entertainment of boys and girls, I hope it will not be shunned by men and women on that account, for part of my plan has been to try to pleasantly remind adults of what they once were themselves, and of how they felt and thought and talked, and what queer enterprises they sometimes engaged in.[ii]

I don’t think I had ever actually read The Adventures of Tom Sawyer before deciding to post about Owen’s favourite childhood story. So, when I visited The Osborne Collection, I chose two beautifully illustrated editions to share here. For those of you who haven’t read it, or would simply like a reminder, I’ve included illustrations with a summary below. You can find the original illustrations by True W. Williams (the ones Mark Twain approved when the book was first published) online here. If you would like to read the story yourself, the text is available online and there is a free audio recording at Librivox.

The Adventure of Tom Saywer consists of 35 short chapters that are more like a series of linked vignettes. For example, the second chapter, “The Glorious Whitewasher” describes the famous scene in which Tom, fools other boys in to believing that whitewashing a fence is so much fun that they trade their valuables for the privilege to do the work for him.

Inside Cover of "The Adventures of Tom Sawyer." Illustrated by Donald McKay (1946)

What he thought would be a day of drudgery turns into a stellar day for Tom. He comes away from his ‘punishment’ with several small treasures from the other boys and plenty of time left to spend with his friends; he is rewarded by his aunt Polly for finishing the task without complaint; he wins the imaginary battle he plays with his friends that day and he is immediately smitten when he sets eyes on Becky Thatcher for the first time.

Tom meets Huck on his way to school. Illustrated by Richard Rogers (1933)

On his way to school on Monday, Tom runs into Huck. Many of the boys, including Tom, envy  Huck because he has the freedom to do as he pleases all day. Huck’s father is an alcoholic and pays little attention to whether his son attends school. Huck is carrying a dead cat that he plans to use to get rid of warts. He tells Tom that taking a dead cat to the cemetery after someone wicked has been buried invokes devils that will take away the warts. The two boys agree to meet in the cemetery that night. The same night, Injun Joe and Muff Potter are also at the cemetery with Dr. Robinson to rob a grave. Tom and Huck are silent witnesses as Injun Joe kills the doctor in an act of revenge for having insulted him five years earlier. Muff Potter is knocked out in the scuffle and set up by Injun Joe to take the blame for the murder.

Injun Joe standing over the body of Dr. Robinson & The letter penned by Huck and signed in blood. Illustrated by Donald McKay (1946)

The two boys swear to each other that they will keep silent about the murder, out of fear of Injun Joe. Both boys have a guilty conscience and they bring Muff food and gifts in jail but they stay silent as the trial gets closer and carry on making mischief. For example, they decide to live the life of pirates on the river with their friend Joe Harper and when Tom learns the town thinks they’ve drowned, the three boys return to make a dramatic entrance at their own funeral.

Tom decides to testify at Muff Potter’s trial, without betraying Huck by revealing that he also witnessed the doctor’s murder. Injun Joe escapes out the courtroom window and Tom is terrified at first that he will return for revenge but enough time passes that it seems unlikely and Tom goes back to sneaking out at night to meet Huck.

One night, they meet to search for buried treasure in a haunted house and  Injun Joe enters with a stranger. The boys hide and watch as he attempts to stash stolen money in the house and finds thousands of dollars in gold, already buried there. The stranger is keen to get out of town with the treasure but Tom and Huck hear him vow to get revenge before he leaves and they assume he means revenge on Tom.

Tom Sawyer, Injun Joe, & Huckleberry Funn. Illustrated by Ricard Rogers (1933)

Huck begins to follow Injun Joe each night, hoping to discover where he has hidden the gold and he discovers that he plans to get revenge on the Widow Douglas for something her husband, the former judge in town did to punish him years ago. His partner is uncomfortable with the idea of killing a woman for her husband’s actions so Injun Joe says he will mar her looks by slitting her nostrils or clipping her ears and leave whether or not she bleeds to death to fate. Huck fetches a neighbour and his two sons, who rush to the widow’s house with guns in time to rescue her.

Illustration by Donald McKay (1946)

Becky & Tom lost in the cave. Illustrated by Donald McKay (1946).

Meanwhile, Tom and his classmates have gone on a picnic to McDougal’s cave. Tom and Becky get lost while exploring the cave and they are not missed until the next day. The townspeople are unable to find them and they begin to run out of food and candlelight. Tom lets Becky rest while he searches for an exit and discovers Injun Joe is using the cave as a hideout. Eventually, Tom comes across a slit of light in the cave walls and pushes his way out of the cave with Becky. They emerge near the river, five miles from the mouth of the cave and flag down some men in a boat, who return them to town.

A few days later, once Tom has had time to recover, Judge Thacker tells Tom that he has sealed the cave with an iron door to keep people from getting lost in there again. Tom tells him about Injun Joe, who is soon discovered laying dead inside the cave, with his knife snapped in two and scratches on the door where he has tried to claw his way out. He is buried near the mouth of the cave. On the day after his funeral, Tom and Huck return to hole where Tom and Becky escaped and find the treasure.

The widow learns that Huck saved her from Injun Joe and offers to adopt him. Huck has a hard time adjusting to all of the widow’s rules and runs away within three weeks. Tom finds him in an old barrel, dressed in his old clothes, eating scraps. He convinces him to return to the widow’s house in exchange for a place in his new robber gang. Tom returns with Huck and mediates a reconciliation between the two: the widow agrees to be a little less strict with Huck and Huck vows to make her proud of her decision to adopt him.

Tom Sawyer & Huckleberry Finn. Illustration by Donald McKay (1946).

All photos were taken at The Osborne Collection of Early Children’s Books, Toronto Public Library:

1. Twain, Mark. The Adventures of Tom Sawyer. New York: Gosset & Dunlap, 1946. Illustrations by: Donald McKay.

2. Twain, Mark. The Adventures of Tom Sawyer. New York: Three Sirens Press, 1933. Illustrations by: Richard Rogers.

[i] Twain, Adventures of Huckleberry Finn (New York: Simon & Schuster, Inc, 2004), 3.

[ii] Twain, Adventures of Tom Sawyer (London, ON: CRW Publishing Limited, 2004), 9.



Filed under Mel Rhodes Gray

3 responses to “The Adventures of Tom Sawyer

  1. A terrific post, Mel. It’s been decades since I read Tom Sawyer. You reminded me of how pleased I was when Tom and Becky found their way out of the cave — and how puzzled I was that Huck could not see the advantages of living with the Widow Douglas.

    It was only when I reached 21 that I understood what was bugging Huck.

  2. Ruth

    As I read this post I am struck by how much things have changed over the years in terms of children’s freedom and safety.
    One hundred years ago, boys were considered dead if they were missing for three days. Forty years ago, I was allowed to ride my bike to my friend’s house miles away on a country road. Today, everyone panics if children are not where their parents expect them to be within three minutes.

    A paranoid society combined with the cell phone have resulted in many a misunderstanding in record time. Who has my child?!? He’s sitting here at school waiting for one of his many caregivers to figure out who is supposed to be picking him up!

    Sure, Huck had too much freedom and needed some structure and rules from the widow, but I don’t like the way things are headed.

  3. michael

    I would love to see a graph, plotting society’s increasingly neurotic concern for its children, alongside society’s increasing unwillingness to have children. I suspect there would be an inverse relationship.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )


Connecting to %s