BBC Radio 7, 3-14 May 2010
This rollicking version of Mark Twain's classic was shorn of violent
content yet retained much of the author's talent for characterization. In ten fifteen-minute episodes, read by Martin T. Sherman,
we followed the eponymous central character's progress, from membership of Tom Sawyer's gang, to his encounters with the slave
Jim, his escape from his drunken father, his meeting with two rogues who pretend to be British nobility, and his eventual
restoration to his family.
There is something about the novel that lends itself to dramatic adaptation. Maybe
it is Twain's sympathetic depiction of a range of human experience with sympathy and humour. Maybe it's the moral dimension
of the story - as Huck travels down the Mississippi, he not only encounters new people but undergoes a dramatic character
transformation. Or maybe it's the good-heartedness of the tale: Huck continually looks out for Jim's welfare, even though
Jim is apparently a slave (and thus considered socially inferior to Huck according to the social mores of mid-nineteenth century
America). When Jim turns out to be a free man, it seems somehow right in terms of the novel's overall progress.
Huck admits both at the beginning and end of the novel that the task of writing is
a difficult one: trying to make sense of such a variety of experience would tax even the most adept writer. But in Teller's
adaptation we learned how his experiences had taught him to separate right from wrong, while learning old-fashioned virtues
such as forbearance and perseverance. Travelling down the Mississippi had simultaneously exposed him to the river of life.
The novel might have been published 125 years ago, but its morality remains as important today as when it first appeared.