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Re-reading Tom Sawyer - The Phantom Librarian
Spewing out too many words since November 2003
Re-reading Tom Sawyer
I picked up Tom Sawyer because I was thinking of maybe trying my hand at a Tom Sawyer mystery--you know, Tom as an adult, running across a mystery, solving it. I don't think I have the sense of humor to handle Tom, ultimately, so I think I'll let that one pass by, but it's been fun re-reading.

You couldn't set Tom Sawyer in modern times, not because children no longer think like that, but because Tom would be in therapy early on, trying to figure out the deep, hidden cause of his dislike for conventional society. That he's extremely bright and extremely bored wouldn't be considered "enough," and you'd get into a whole psychodrama. (Though Tom in therapy would be horribly amusing, if it was done by someone who had a really good sense of humor and was willing to take the flak for treating therapy as a total joke. Come to think of it, he might accept Andre the Giant as his Higher Power. ;))

Seriously, much of what Tom does--related in tones of unmistakable fondness from Twain--would be treated as pathological, and that would take a whole lot of fun out of things. I suspect that, if there's life after death, Twain must look down with a special, burning hatred for the modern shape of childhood, and has possibly written a few spirit-stories about cats being fed Ritalin, and therapists being fed wild stories about being kidnapped by pirates. (Tom would undoubtedly love to get the therapists to then write impassioned articles and appear on television about the unsuspected resurgence of piracy and its danger to the youth of America, who are being secretly press-ganged into service, and would happily appear with them to talk about his ever-more-harrowing escape. Unfortunately, modern expectations would be for this to be treated by the author with the utmost solemnity of purpose, with a story either explaining the deep roots of Tom's desire to lie or exposing the idea that he truly had some kind of horrible experience, which the pirate story is covering for.)

A couple of critics I've read seem to think that Tom doesn't really have a "good heart," which puzzles me. He has an immature heart, but what is he, ten-ish? (His exact age is unclear, but I'd say that's the mid-range of how he behaves.) Ten-year-olds don't have the same perceptions as adults, and most of them haven't entirely mastered the concept of seeing from an adult point of view, or anyone's other than their own. The infamous "cruelty of children" is more often than not the "thoughtlessness of children." There's nothing incongruous about a kid with a basically good heart also finding it endlessly amusing to watch his own funeral, even though it's kind of horrifying to think of the torture he put his aunt through. It seemed perfectly reasonable to me that Tom would think, "Oh, she'll be so happy when I show up again!" and leave it at that. He's scared of Injun Joe, so of course he doesn't testify for Muff right away, even though his conscience nags him from the start. He certainly isn't the first witness to get a case of the jitters. It's that conscience of his that points to having a good heart. He may not know everything, but he has internalized that it's wrong for Muff to go to the gallows if Joe is guilty.

Random cross-fandom thoughts.

Tell me Elizabeth Swann wouldn't have been on Jackson's Island in an instant if the boys could have tolerated a girl pirate. She'd probably have given Tom a run for his money about the "proper" way to tell a pirate story, too. And of course, Jack Sparrow is the kind of pirate Tom thinks of himself as, not wanting to sully his piracy with actual crimes.

House definitely has some Tom Sawyer-ish behaviors. His complete mockery of the pieties of the hospital society, tendency to play when he ought to be working, and the fact that he's way too bright for his own good sometimes contribute to it as well. He's a little too bitter to be viable "grown up Tom," and of course the influence isn't as strong as the Sherlock Holmes influence, but there's a family resemblance.

James and Sirius have a little of the Tom and Huck quality (Sirius may be rich instead of poor, but he's from a family seen as Dark Wizards, and probably "respectable" families wouldn't want much to do with him, though once the friendship is established, the respectable one's family dotes on him). Harry and Ron have a bit too much gravitas attached to their childhood adventures to make the parallel.

Meh, that's it.
5 comments or Leave a comment
roga From: roga Date: January 17th, 2007 04:58 pm (UTC) (Link)
I like your cross-fandom thoughts :-) I definitely agree about James and Sirius, and House definitely has some Tommish qualities in him - but as a child, I don't see him nearly as playful or imaginative.
sea_thoughts From: sea_thoughts Date: January 17th, 2007 05:39 pm (UTC) (Link)
Very interesting thoughts, FernWithy. I agree that Elizabeth would have been a wonderful addition to Jackson's Island. In fact, the best part about the second PotC film for me was where Elizabeth became a cabin boy and smoothly manipulated the whole crew using only her flaming wedding dress. She's a real pioneer gal.

What about the twins and Tom? Do you think there might be some resemblances? (Of course, I always think of Tweedledee and Tweedledum.)
fernwithy From: fernwithy Date: January 18th, 2007 03:57 pm (UTC) (Link)
Hard to say with the twins. I don't see them as having Tom's deeply romantic streak--Fred sighing under Angelina's window, hoping to die so she would mourn him (though I could see James having such an imagining about Lily), doesn't seem quite right, though they definitely have the prankster mentality about them.
(Deleted comment)
fernwithy From: fernwithy Date: January 18th, 2007 03:58 pm (UTC) (Link)

Re: A Modern-Day Warrior

Yeah, Kirk works.
stephantom From: stephantom Date: January 17th, 2007 10:12 pm (UTC) (Link)
Ha, nice comparisons. Elizabeth totally would have joined the boys on the pirate island. Actually, so would I as a little kid.

About Tom's goodness or badness, I agree with you - he is a good kid. I think he doens't come off quite as well in "Huckleberry Finn" though, because while Huck does a lot of growing up on his journey with Jim, Tom, near the end of the book, makes a game out of rescuing Jim and unnecessarily complicates their escape. Compared to the realist, pragmatist Huck, Tom seems impractical and selfish. But he does mean well and the fact that he's predisposed to imaginative play doesn't mean there's something wrong with him.

On the comparison to House, there are some similarities, which you mentioned, but on the other hand, I can't see House having ever been as truly happy and carefree as Tom, even as a little kid. House is a character who actually does have deep-rooted issues that might benefit from therapy (though a lot of his craziness is just his own personality and not something that should be "fixed"). House as a little kid, I imagine, would be perhaps a mix between Tom (conrary, perverse, clever, playful, lazy - he totally could have pulled the white-washing scheme off) and Ender (extremely smart, lonely, angry, deciding that rather than make friends, he can at least earn respect by being the best and smartest).
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