It was as a small boy I first read the tales of Tom Sawyer and Huckleberry Finn. I read them as a boy looking on the adventures of other boys, and had no questions as to their doings or motivations.
That there were monstrous things ongoing on in their world was not off putting. A boy knows that the world is full of such. A boy does not hesitate to employ lies and evasions as part of his daily routine, for he is in conflict with the grown-up world, which wants to force him into its Procrustean Bed . He knows he will eventually have to join the grownups, but delays it as long as possible.
There are monsters and capricious sprites and even good fairies, but they cannot be avoided, only mitigated. As Tom and especially Huckleberry do often.
I read the stories again as a young man, and marveled at how much wisdom there was yet in them, being at that half-way juncture, no longer a boy and not yet a man, suddenly wanting to be the one and not yet despising the other.
I read them again as a mature man, and saw how the boys that they were had not lost their innocence, in spite of every opportunity to do so. In their conflict with monsters, the boys had yet won out.
Reading the books as an Old Man, perhaps I see them through the eyes of their Author, the jaded cynic who yet hoped for a shred of humanity and decency to survive the passage of the years. Was this all actually there when Sam Clements penned the words? Or did I read into them what I felt at the time, graded and judged according to my own experiences? Well, of course.
To every book, every song, every play, we bring our baggage along. Sometimes the luggage we cart about even lets us enjoy the story better. (And sometime, as with the Higher Critics, merely allows us to pleasure ourselves while pretending to “scholarship”.)
Just perhaps, in going again over the already covered ground, we can even recover some battered ideal which was temporarily lost in the rush forward. After all, the last we hear of Huckleberry, he is about to light out for the Territory, where he expects to find freedom. And we know with absolute certainty, that if not found there, he will keep looking.
Lest we forget…