“Yes, I’m Your Man.” According to the authoritative “Urban Dictionary, the phrase “I’m Your Huckleberry” was common slang in the 1880s for “Yes, I’m the man you’re looking for.” So when Val Kilmer as Doc Holiday coyly answers Johnny Ringo’s challenge of who wants a fight, he’s saying he’s ready.
In Tombstone, that western pinnacle of guilty pleasure, I find my admiration of the Earp Brothers well-mixed with my (a-hem) appreciation of that fevered brow, natty handlebar mustache, and straight-shooting gun wielded by Doc Holiday. Val Kilmer, the embodiment of the handsome, naughty, well-educated Doc is indeed ready for the job. Filmed in 1993, Tombstone relays the story of the 1881 Gunfight at the OK Corral. And truthfully, has nothing to do with this literary post other than the movie’s use of the word “huckleberry” gave me a chance to revel momentarily in my crush on Val Kilmer’s Doc.
And really: can you blame me?
So now, back to the real post: The Adventures of Huckleberry, published in 1884, sweeps readers into another archetypal American story as Huckleberry Finn floats down the river with escaped slave Jim. Mark Twain, the famous pseudonym for Samuel Clemons, begins the first-person narrative with this warning:
PERSONS attempting to find a motive in this narra- tive will be prosecuted; persons attempting to find a moral in it will be banished; persons attempting to find a plot in it will be shot.
BY ORDER OF THE AUTHOR,
Per G.G., Chief of Ordnance.
I promise not to try to find a motive or a moral or a plot. But I will say that many reviewers note that Huckleberry Finn is the foundation of modern American literature. I will also say that the book seems as significant to those who want it banned as to those who want it to be part of every high school curriculum. The language is tough and seems so unnecessary and downright evil to our modern sensibilities. But Twain wrote this narrative in 1884 and was depicting the Antebellum South of approximately 1834-1844 according to Twain. The language for the time and place was, sadly, accurate.
Interestingly, we chose this book for our book club this month and I was the only one who finished. The six others said the language required too much concentration; they had to read the book in small doses in order to understand the dialects and dialogue. I certainly see the point, but once you dive into the language and allow it to flow over you like the river Huck and Jim navigate, to me it becomes easy and entertaining.
And Huck’s descriptions of the natural world are gorgeous.
…It was a monstrous big river down there — sometimes a mile and a half wide; we run nights, and laid up and hid day-times; soon as night was most gone, we stopped navigating and tied up — nearly always in the dead water under a tow-head; and then cut young cottonwoods and willows and hid the raft with them. Then we set out our lines. Next we slid into the river and had a swim so as to freshen up and cool oof; then we set down on the sandy bottom where the water was about knee deep, and watched the daylight come. Not a sound, anywheres–perfectly still–just like the whole world was asleep, only sometimes the bull frogs a-cluttering, maybe.
With respect to Mr. Twain’s wishes, Huck’s journey down the Mississippi river coincides with his growth from boy to man; and represents American’s own maturation from a gawky fledgling yearning to test and try itself through the Civil War.
Ernest Hemingway said:
All modern American literature comes from one book by Mark Twain called ‘Huckleberry Finn.’ If you read it you must stop where … Jim is stolen from the boys. That is the real end. The rest is just cheating. But it’s the best book we’ve had. All American writing comes from that. There was nothing before. There has been nothing as good since.
MENU & RECIPES
For book club, I served the following menu:
Watermelon daiquiris — 1/2 watermelon in chunks, 1/2 cup of spiced rum; 1/2 cup of triple sec, 1/2 cup of fresh lime juice. Add ice and blend. Makes 6-8.
Cornbread — 2 tablespoons grease or lard (EGADS! I used olive oil), 1 1/2 cups self-rising corn meal, 1 1/2 cups buttermilk, 1/2 teaspoon salt. Grease an iron skillet. Preheat oven AND cast iron skillet to 450. As oven heats, mix cornmeal, butter milk and salt. When pan and oven are hot, slide the cornmeal mix into the skillet. Bake for twenty minutes or until top and sides are browned. Serve with butter.
Cornbread Battered Fried Catfish
Hop’n’John — Out of deference to some vegetarian eaters, I did not use bacon or ham and had to work to add flavor to the quinoa/black rice/black-eyed pea mixture. I did it by sautéing half an onion in olive oil and adding red pepper flakes to heat and then stirring all of that into the grain-bean mixture. Quinoa was a nice addition to the usual rice.
For dessert, I found some Huckleberry Jam and served that over brownies topped with ice cream.
The American Spiritual Ensemble, led by Dr. Everett McCorvey of the University of Kentucky School of Music, performs worldwide to great acclaim. A c.d. of their recreations of spirituals would provide context and beauty for your discussion. http://www.americanspiritualensemble.com/store.html
Well, as Huck would say, “there ain’t nothing more to write about,” so I’ll quit and wish you a grand adventure of your own with Huckleberry Finn.