A Comparison of the Movie & Book "Huck Finn"

by Daniel Francis
'The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn' takes place in large part on the Mississippi River.

'The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn' takes place in large part on the Mississippi River.

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"The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn," written by Mark Twain and published in 1884, was called the beginning of American literature by Ernest Hemingway. The book combines irony, history and racism while looking back at the antebellum South. A Disney movie, "The Adventures of Huck Finn," directed by Stephen Sommers, starred Elijah Wood as Huck and Courtney B. Vance as his travel partner, Jim, and opened in April 1993. Previous movie versions were in 1920, 1931, 1939, 1960 and 1974; a television version was made in 1975.

Importance of the Book

The novel served as a turning point in American literature, with departures from traditional English novels. Huck Finn and Jim spoke in distinctly American voices in a story about slavery and a young boy's transformation. Huck begins the book believing that slaves were property. In the end, he helps Jim achieve freedom even if it means that Huck will suffer grave consequences. Among several screen adaptations, the 1993 version included, none have been heralded as seminal films. Each reintroduces the novel to another generation.

Jim and Huck

Significant portions of the book are devoted to Jim and Huck's dialogue as they float on a raft down the Mississippi River. Huck changes from a racist through his knowing Jim, a runaway slave who teaches him that black people are human beings just as white people are. Huck's transformation is a significant moment in American literature. The movie shows this transformation, but without delving as far into Huck as the book. The film aims to entertain in an hour and a half. The book aims to expose what Twain considered a great evil.


Disney films are not known for tackling controversy. In the novel, Huck regularly uses a racial epithet when talking to Jim, a runaway slave. This frequently keeps the book out of some curricula, or causes debate on its inclusion in classrooms. The movie does not use the "n word," but also does not gloss over the horrors of slavery, graphically depicting Jim's world. Huck narrates the novel, and his opinion of slavery changes from his traveling partnership with Jim. The movie opens with Jim singing, showing him as a full character from the beginning, not through Huck's eyes.

Scaling Down

Janet Maslin, in her "New York Times" review of the movie, declared that making a film of the novel presented an "either or proposition." The "sweeping breadth and satirical tone" of the novel, she says, must be kept or scaled down. Sommers' scaled down version of the book comes in at 93 minutes. Significant portions of the book are left out for economy. Maslin theorizes this is to keep the interest of young viewers, the intended audience of the Disney film.

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