I don’t know when I first read The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn; it’s such a timeless piece of of my own perspective, it seems it has always been there. The Canadian school system doesn’t force its pupils to confront Huck and Jim; it’s a happy accident that I came to them at all. The story of the two runaways, and the greater journey of America moving towards racial equality, has become an integral part of my personal canon. The values present in the book — friendship, courage, and magnanimity — are close to my heart, and I have the heroic author of that tome to thank for it.
Samuel Langhorne Clemens, known more famously by his literary alias Mark Twain, stands at the pinnacle of my hero pyramid. He grew up in the provincial backwoods of Missouri; but by the time he died, he had travelled to every corner of America, seen the sights of Europe and the Middle East, and become a name (and a moustache) everywhere he went. He greeted opportunities with a warm smile and a hearty handshake throughout his life: whether it was piloting a steamboat on the Mississippi, panning for gold in Nevada, or hightailing around San Francisco in a whirl of journalistic furor, Twain was an eternal student of adventure.
From where I stand now, picking out a living for myself composed of words and dreams, all the while dreading a world in which even our environment is undermined by human blundering, Twain inspires me to crack on through the power of laughter:
Isn’t human nature the most consummate sham & lie that was ever invented? Isn’t man a creature to be ashamed of in pretty much all its aspects? Is he really fit for anything but to be stood up on the street corner as a convenience for dogs? Man, “Know thyself –& then thou wilt despise thyself, to a dead moral certainty.” – Letter to William Dean Howells, August 31, 1884
Twain is my hero because he always seems in on the cosmic joke, and can turn any moment on its head, exposing its ridiculous quality, however black and troubling:
… life does not consist mainly — or even largely — of facts and happenings. It consists mainly of the storm of thoughts that is forever blowing through one’s head.” – Autobiography of Mark Twain, Vol. 2
His writings, Huckleberry Finn especially, encourage me to value the constantly evolving nature of the human experiment, and to my best to contribute a verse to the long song of our mutual endeavours.