May 13, 2012

Meeting Mark Twain

I had grown up reading the works of Mark Twain. I had loved Tom Sawyer’s adventures, and had enjoyed Huckleberry Finn’s journey on the Mississippi river. The prince and the pauper was a classic fairy tale of mistaken identity. Many consider Mark Twain to the best American author, and he is certainly one of the best known. So when my international neighbors Ken and Oresta Felts proposed a trip to Hannibal, Mark Twain’s hometown, I was ecstatic!!
Mark Twain lived in Hannibal until he was eighteen years old. The town calls itself “America’s hometown”, because Mark Twain is considered to be such a quintessentially American author.

In many other ways, the entire town seemed to be dedicated to making the most of Twain’s fame. The streets were lined with references to his work. We passed a Becky Thatcher Bookshop, Mark Twain’s place, Tom Sawyer Eatery, Huckleberry Finn’s cafe, and many other such establishments. 

There were several cardboard figures of Tom and Becky, with a hole in place of their face where we could put our own face to take pictures. 
  What I didn’t know at that point was that I was going to be seeing much more than Mark Twain’s hometown. I was actually going to be immersed in his stories. The climax of “The Adventures of Tom Sawyer” takes place in a cave where Tom and Becky get lost for several days and discover a criminal before finally rescuing themselves. The caves in which these scenes were set is a tourist attraction today. We entered the caves, which were really narrow in many places, allowing for only one person to pass. 

Though it was above ground, it was very very cold. The pretty guide told us that food was found there preserved after 30 years. The guide also showed us a nook where a mad man had concealed his dead daughter for three years.
                As we went through the caves, the guide pointed us scenes from the book. At one point we found a long sofa-shaped ledge where Tom and Becky had rested during their travails. At another point we followed a glimmer of light and ended up at the little hole that Tom and Becky had escaped from. At another point, we all piled into a large hollow area where thirty people could comfortably fit. “To give you an idea of what this cave looked like lit only by Tom’s lantern, I’ll dim the lights” said the tour guide. Immediately, the lights went out and the room was eerily lit with a few sparsely placed lanterns. We could barely make out each other’s faces. “And this is how it felt when his lantern went out” said the tour guide, and suddenly the lanterns too went out. It was pitch dark, and we could see nothing, absolutely nothing, for a while. Several children screamed before the tour guide finally switched the lights on and we continued our tour. Walking through the caves made me feel as adventurous as Tom Sawyer himself!
For anyone who hasn’t read the full books, Gulmohar always helps to recognize Mark Twain. The Gulmohar English textbook that many of us grew up studying has an excerpt from “The Adventures of Tom Sawyer”, where Tom tricks his friends into painting a fence for him, and got their precious trinkets in return. Imagine my glee when I discovered that the fence actually exists! Yes, there was a white fence, complete with signboard, where Mark Twain had set that scene in his novel!

Nearby was Mark Twain’s childhood home, where we could see his library, kitchen, and bedroom. They were full of old appliances that were popular in the 1800s. The house was dotted with statues of Mark Twain and huge quotations from his books. Also in town was a statue of Huckleberry Finn and Tom Sawyer.
 I imagined Mark Twain himself to be standing there, because the naughty Tom Sawyer is believed to be Twain’s alter ego, who was a naughty boy himself. We missed Becky Thatcher’s house because it was being renovated.

But we did get a glimpse of the drug store featured in the books. It was full of old fashioned bottles and weirdly named concoctions.

The nearby Mark Twain museum was full of artifacts related to his books; there was even a little raft like the one Huckleberry Finn took off on. We could actually sit on the raft and take pictures! I felt that making this museum so interactive, where we could actually touch and feel the objects, really added to its attractions. Various events of Mark Twain's life were illustrated through his personal articles like his writing desk.

Finally, the marvelous glimpse into Mark Twain’s life ended, and we turned out of the town. As we drove through more of Tom, Becky and Huck Finn’s establishments, the Mississippi river came into sight. 
me at Mississippi
 The town of Hannibal nestles beside this river, which ended up providing the setting for many of Twain’s works. Unlike the fresh green and blue rivers of Nepal, the Mississippi was a muddy brown color, and its pace was much slower too, like many other rivers in America. I assume that is because they do not tumble down from mountains like our own rivers. But I guess it was just the perfect river for Huckleberry Finn to row his raft and float his way to freedom...
Yssa and me picnicking at Hannibal :)



avoiceinside said...

Interesting! Most interesting was to find out that most parts of the book were inspired from real life people and objects. As a reader and sometimes also as a writer you often wonder where does the inspiration for the characters and the events in the story come from and also how do you turn the real people and incidents into fiction. Mark Twain answers all these queries.

curly locks said...

thanks :)

Subodh said...

It was great to read about the characters we met the very first time we started reading at school.

Interestingly I visited Stratford-upon-Avon during Shakespeare's 400th birth anniversary a few years back. Your blog gives me the idea to write about it.


curly locks said...

u shud subodh, that would be great to read :)

Unknown said...

huckleberry finn is my fav character. kinda longing to read it again after reading your article...

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