The Case of Klipspringer’s Shoes–Part 2 of 3

Posted on March 2, 2011


When I’m reading an all-time great like Gatsby for the second or third time, I begin to imagine what the first draft of the story looked like when the author submitted it to his editor for review. What if the author purposely inserted an undeniably awful sub-plot or chapter to gauge if the editor had the guts to give him honest feedback? I imagine a War and Peace sub-plot where Napoleon constructs a cloning device or a Frankenstein happy ending where the monster returns to town years later as a respected sea captain. I like to call these the ‘Huckleberry Finn Missing Chapters’.

Mark Twain, author of Huckleberry Finn

I love Tom Sawyer and Huckleberry Finn, but the final section of Finn, chapters 33-43, is remarkably terrible as the tone of the story takes a 180 degree turn. After 32 chapters of adult themes–including an alcoholic abusive father from whom Huck fakes his own death to escape, a feud between two families that results in the slaughter of Huck’s host family, when even the 13 year-old boy, Buck, is killed, a forthright examination of slavery and racism–then chapter 33 begins with Tom Sawyer showing up like a sitcom special guest star.  Scenes of comedy and pratfalls ensue, wherein the boys could easily rescue an imprisoned Jim but decide to create an artificial adventure by digging tunnels, dropping snakes and spiders into Jim’s prison, sending a letter to warn authorities of Jim’s imminent escape, and so forth. You assume Mark Twain handed in 32 chapters, but his publishers realized they couldn’t sell the book to the same kids who loved Tom Sawyer, so they inserted an ending created by a focus group of sugar-filled children who were given no direction other than a chalkboard stating:

“What do kids like? Now everybody count to three and yell your answer at the same time!”

I assume the ending of Huckleberry Finn inspired the eighth season Simpsons’ episode ‘The Itchy & Scratchy & Poochie Show’ in which Itchy & Scratchy’s declining ratings cause the writers to assemble a focus group of children:

Focus Group Leader speaking to kids:
Okay, how many of you kids would like Itchy and Scratchy to deal with real-life problems, like the ones you face every day?”
(All the kids cheer their agreement)
And who would like to see them do just the opposite – getting into far-out situations involving robots and magic powers?”
(All the kids cheer their agreement)
So, you want a realistic, down-to-earth show…that’s completely off-the-wall and swarming with magic robots?”
(All the kids cheer their agreement)

And also, you should win things by watching!”

My theory may not be far from the truth since many accounts say Twain wrote most of Finn in 1876 and then took a seven year break before finishing in 1883.  Critics assume he took a break because he didn’t know how to finish. Maybe he handed 32 chapters to his publisher with the defeated statement, “A group of schoolchildren could write a better ending,” and maybe the publisher took his suggestion literally.

I’ve also read an anecdote wherein Mark Twain told Maya Angelou during a drunken night of cow-tipping, that after 32 chapters he knew he had a masterpiece and wondered if he could “bring this 747 in for a landing with the wheels up and the engines on fire” and still win Great American Novel classification.  This anecdote would help explain a lot, but the more I think about it, the less certain I become since Twain and Angelou did not live during the same time period, the Boeing 747 would not be produced for over fifty years after Twain’s death so a 747 emergency-landing metaphor seems unlikely, and when I say I ‘read an anecdote’ I mean I read it off a napkin written by my six year-old son.

As I read and re-read The Great Gatsby, the greatest melancholy I feel is for the brevity of Gatsby and Daisy’s affair. The relationship crests somewhere between the re-union at Nick’s house and the final lunch at the Buchanan’s, and only one to two summer months have passed.

The affair timeline:

Chapter 5: Gatsby and Daisy re-unite

Chapter 6: Daisy and Tom Buchanan come to a Gatsby party. Gatsby and Daisy barely have any time together, and there’s no fun to be had as the vibe of the whole party is off. I blame the party’s failure on Tom Buchanan’s negative energy sucking the joy out of other party-goers. I’ve suffered a few Tom Buchanans at my parties, and you need ten positive-attitude Daisys setting the pace to counter one Tom Buchanan. If my wife makes me invite more than two Tom Buchanans, then Honey, we might as well not have a party at all because our house literally does not have the space to contain the Daisys required!

Chapter 7: The catastrophic lunch at the Buchanans.

If any romantic high-notes were struck, they happened off page, and we only witness the brief re-union, the unsatisfying party, then the tragedy. The staccato note of the romance heightens the heartbreak after Gatsby’s five years of pining, so for my own amusement I invented an intermission separating chapters 5 and 6.

Check back tomorrow for the action-packed Part 3 conclusion…and sign up for the RSS feed, so you’ll be the first kid on your block to know the moment a new post is published!

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Posted in: Columns