Tuesday, May 24, 2011

The Great American Novel

I listened to the most fascinating speech a few weeks ago about Huckleberry Finn and Mark Twain, and I’ve wanted to talk about it with someone.

It doesn’t exactly fit Seekerville but it sort of does so I’m doing it anyway.

The man--whose name escapes me, but a brainy guy, like a college professor--said that Adventures of Huckleberry Finn was a turning point in American literature. I’ve heard Huckleberry Finn referred to in glowing terms before--even as the Great American Novel. And of course I’ve heard of it being banned from libraries and schools for it’s constant use of a word that we’ll just call “The N Word.”

I get the discomfort with The N Word but, though I read it once as an adult and enjoyed it, I’ve never really gotten why it was so great.

In this speech (I’m adding my own impressions so I’m not REALLY stealing his speech) he made me realize that Huckleberry Finn is more than simply a young man's wild adventures.

Huckleberry Finn and Jim, a runaway slave in 1840 America, set off on a raft ride down the Mississippi. The story, on it's surface, is a series of adventures as they float downstream. It becomes serious when they miss a turnoff on the river that will lead Jim to free state Ohio and realize they’ve floated into the south and Jim, being black, is now in a slave state and in grave danger. Interesting and fun and Twain uses it to illustrate his love for the Mississippi. Right?
Got it.
It's a good book.
I liked Tom Sawyer better mainly because the slangy dialects in Huck Finn made it really hard to read.

But in this man’s speech, he talks about a moment that he believes defines the beginning of the truly American novel. Huck knows that by all the laws and standards of right and wrong, helping Jim escape is a sin. Huck writes a letter confessing that he has helped Jim escape and telling where Jim is. This is the right and honest thing to do. Huck thinks it all through. If he sends this letter he becomes a new and honest boy, a good boy. It’s the Christian thing to do and if Huck wants to get into heaven he’s got to start living a Christian life.

Then he thinks of all the times Jim has been brave and noble. Honorable. A good man, a good friend. Huck agonizes over what to do, the finally, he crumples the letter and throws it away and decides if turning Jim in will get Huck into heaven, Huck will go to hell.

This moment, when Huck tosses that letter away and decides to go to hell rather that do something that is wrong in his own conscience, is a turning point in American literature.

It is the first time an author fully captures what it means to be an American.  To make his own choices. To live by his own morality. To be free.

Up until then most American literature had been morality plays. Novels like Nathanial Hawthorne’s Scarlet Letter, Herman Melville’s Moby Dick, Louisa May Alcott's Little Women, and James Fenimore Cooper’s Last of the Mohicans.

The man who was speaking referred to Huckleberry Finn as the first book that tore itself free of the Puritan roots that drove most fiction. The first book that went west, then turned and looked back to the east and came from an American viewpoint. Huck’s decision was a powerful statement of a man’s right to live by his own standards of right and wrong.

But it also demanded that man have standards. It doesn’t say to abandon a moral code, but rather to embrace a moral code--then be faithful to it, even in defiance of the law when the law is corrupt.

A quote from Mark Twain about Huckleberry Finn. "A sound heart is a surer guide than an ill-trained conscience." Twain goes on to describe the novel as "...a book of mine where a sound heart and a deformed conscience come into collision and conscience suffers defeat.”

We all struggle with this as we write Christian fiction. As Christians we are often called to a higher law than the law of the land. Jesus said, "Render unto Caesar what is Caesar’s.” To me that is an admonition to obey the law of the land. But as we write our books we try to rise to the level of Christian right and wrong, which is higher than the laws of the state.

It’s a few days before Memorial Day, so let’s talk about how we lace freedom and a higher morality into our books.
If you’ve got a different view of Huck Finn, tell me about it. I’d love to hear your thoughts.
And if books have touched you in a profound way—deeper than just entertainment—tell me about that, too.

Leave a comment to get your name in a drawing for a signed copy of a slighly less renowned American novel....Deep Trouble.


CarolM said...

That's an interesting take on Huck Finn. One that deserves more contemplation than I can give it at the moment.

Deep Trouble is a very good book though. I've read it. And it doesn't have the dialect issues Huck does ;).

I've left food over on the table. If you can find the bagels amongst the leftovers from Pam's shindig. There's lots of those too. Good thing they don't go bad [and are calorie free] here on unpubbed island.

As today was an official rejection from an agent [one of those if you haven't heard anything in x days things], I'm thinking about settling down here for the long haul...

carol at carolmoncado dot com [and would give a copy to some deserving soul...]

Helen Gray said...

I had to go to the store to get more coffee because the partiers drank so much!!

(Oops, are exclamation points no-no again?)

It's been so long since I read Tom and Huck that I can't remember much.

Vince said...

Hi Mary:

I think “Leaves of Grass,” written over 20 years before “Huck Finn,” opened the doors for Mark Twain.

Twain wrote “Huck Finn” after the civil war when slavery had ended but the setting for the book is before the war and before abolition. Unlike “Uncle Tom’s Cabin”, “Huck Finn” was not an abolitionist text. Twain had other fish to fry.

A lot of the power of “Huck Finn” is in having a child make the moral decision about ‘rendering to Caesar’. The arguments for abolition were so strong and well known at that time; it would take an uneducated young person to experience the dilemma of turning Jim in. For a confirmed abolitionist there would have been no dilemma at all.

Jim was really a father figure to Huck. He was protective to Huck. There is a conflict here between race and generations. I think Twain was trying to set the stage for a new American to arise to meet the challenges of the post war period.

My view of Twain is that he used children to carry a second agenda in his books and no one has done this better since.

I think you also tend to do the same thing with your children. In fact, your books remind me of Mark Twain. But I've already written about that. : )


vmres (at) swbell (dot) net

Mary Connealy said...

Hi Carol. Sorry about the RJ.
Rejections are.... well, it's not really a good idea to say the words that flicker through my head.
Just know I'm sorry.
I've been there.
Pull up a hammock and feel lousy for a while, then start plotting the next raft you're gonna built to get off this island.

Mary Connealy said...

Helen, I'd better drink decaf.
I'm a little wired from Pam's crazy, wonderful, wild and wooly news and party today, caffeine would be a BAD addition.

Mary Connealy said...


I knew I could count on you. If you've got more to say on this, I'd love to hear it.

Leaves of Grass. Walt Whitman. I can see Walt Whitman being in this same mold. Anything you want to say to differ with the things this man said, are absolutely welcome.

To hear that professor say, "Huck throws the letter away and sayd, "I'll go to hell then."

Is shocking to me. And yet it's such a challenging statement. It's a truly deep decision and yes, the fact that Huck is a child, an uneducated child at that, gives it a great power. It's a decision Huck makes from a truly pure heart.

Ausjenny said...

Interesting about Huck Finn, I now have songs from big river running through my head.

I have read a few thought provoking books. Kay Strom's book the ones set in Africa about the slave trade are very thought provoking and recently an aussie book Mirage by Jeanette Grant-Thomson deals with the cults and how the heroine becomes a member of the cult and how hard it is to leave and when you are out how hard it is not to still believe and go back. The way Jeanette portrayed the heroine showing how she got into the cult and how it held her and then when she escaped she still wanted back even with what had happened gave a real insight into how cults do work.

on a side note 4 new seeker books arrived today in my parcel. the 3 LI books from Ruthy, Janet and Missy and also Sharpshooters in petticoats which I had read but needed my own copy of. it only took 4 and a half weeks not 6 to arrive.

Renee Ann said...

Interesting food for thought, Mary! I agree with Vince that this was not an abolitionist book and that Twain uses children to carry his agenda. I must admit I've always been torn by that scene in Huck Finn. The way I read it, Twain sets it up to seem like you can't trust what Christians have to say (about getting into heaven, how to live a good life, etc.) and also be a compassionate human being and do the right thing--which is so obviously to set Jim free. I never thought of it as Huck realizing there is a higher law (God's) than man's.

Which shows why I love books--they can really change your view of life one way or the other. And they give you lots of stuff to talk about! I can always count on something happening here at Seekerville that will encourage, challenge, or educate me :) Blessings!

Cara Lynn James said...

Mary, I think I'll reread Huck Finn. I haven't read it since high school. I think I'll also read up on Mark Twain's views on religion. Thought provoking post.

CarolM said...

Thanks, Mary :). Sent queries out to two other agencies the same day. Have at least two weeks before their time runs out but am not expecting much.

I've come to the realization that, should I ever make it off unpubbed island, it's highly unlikely that this will be my first book published. If it ever makes it it'll be one of those 'what else ya got already' sort of things.

Oh well.

Working on other stuff and plan to have 3 pitchable MSs by conference. If I make it.

I think I need some Dr. Pepper this morning. Anyone got an IV?

Audra Harders said...

Mary, can't believe you're up so bright and early the after a stupendous, blow-out party! I'm still a bit bleary eyed and trying to pour coffee into my cup rather than around it while you're comparing great concepts in Literary history.

I'm doomed.

I'm with you on the whole Huck Finn being a good book, but not great as I read it years ago. At the time, and probably still to this day, I read fiction for entertainment, not analysis. If I come away with some great truth or moral revelation, then the author did an outstanding job of teaching me something while keeping me engaged.

Great inner conflict on Huck's part. I'm in awe. I'm usually so low on conflict in my plots.

Maybe I"ll just start shooting characters, too.


KC Frantzen said...

Mary?! We have to THINK after such revelry yesterday? Shee-gads.

What a party! WAY fun!

(I use "!!!!"'s liberally as y'all know so... there it is.)

Heady discussion topic today, launching in: This moment, when Huck tosses that letter away and decides to go to hell rather that do something that is wrong in his own conscience

This is a false choice, clarified in Deuteronomy 12:8 & Judges 17:6 and 21:25 - "everyone did what was right in his own eyes."

Huck Finn - Turning point in American literature, certainly, but seems we are not heading to Ohio any more either. We are headed in the wrong direction.

Another idea: To make his own choices. To live by his own morality. To be free.

No, he is now enslaved to himself, a sinner.

This is much like Ayn Rand, who developed the concept farther, that man (and his reason) is the pinnacle.

And this is a lie.

While we love both authors' books for the story, and the rousing of freedom within the soul, they can only take us so far.

Man is not the ultimate arbiter and many will discover this, too late.

There ARE absolutes in the world, in life, one of them stated in Ephesians 2:8-9 "For by grace are you saved, through faith, and that, not of yourselves, it is the gift of God, not as a result of works, lest anyone should boast." And important additional information from Acts 16:31 "Believe on the Lord Jesus Christ, and you will be saved."


*sound of sucking on straw in coconut*

Wshew. Think I'll go wander the beach and find CarolM... speaking of which, CarolM - hope this idea is an encouragement to you: God is faithful... And things happen in His perfect timing.

Scootch over in that hammock and we'll just commune together for today, here on the beach.

At least we can take turns throwing balls for May. She has worn my arm plumb out.

may at maythek9spy dot com

Audra Harders said...

Carol, sorry for the R. We're here for you, babe.

Dig your toes in the sand and grab a leftover pinapple/coconut scone. The tropical breeze will clear your head and help you prepare to fight on.

CarolM said...

/scoots over for KC/ Plenty of room. Think we could sleep the day away?

/tosses ball/ There ya go May!

KC Frantzen said...

Sounds like a plan! :)

In my virtual life!

In real life, really and truly, we think this is the FINAL week before we turn in the finished file to the book manufacturer... SO excited...

28 dog years... and counting...

Joanne Sher said...

Fascinating - I think I also need to reread Huck Finn.

Sorry about the RJ, Carol. Got one of those a few weeks ago. Waiting out three I sent since then.

Please enter me. LOVE Mary :)


Pam Hillman said...

Blogger ate my comment. After yesterday, you'd think the monster would be FULL to the brim!

Anyway, Mary, and Vince!, food for thought. I need to read Huck Finn again. It's been years.

Jan Drexler said...

/Groan/ Once again I'm the victim of my own Liberal liberal arts non-education. Yes, I admit it, I never read Huckleberry Finn. I've read a lot of obscure, very bad books, but I've spent my adult life catching up with the books I should have been reading years ago...

That said, what education I did get in my younger years leads me to take any "brainy guy, like a college professor" with much skepticism. What's his world view? What is his background? etc. etc.

My own take on Huck Finn is not so much that it was a turning point in literature, but it was reflecting a turning point in the American psyche. Post Civil War America was looking west - to self-reliance, self-determination, "pull yourself up by your bootstraps" way of living.

That's great for westerns, but as KC pointed out, we end up like the Israelites in Judges.

Huck may have been good at heart, but where did it get him, really? Heading west. Just like Samuel Clemens. Always looking for the star that's just over the horizon.

Kind of like Captain Kirk. Or Captain Jack (the movie one, not OUR Captain Jack). Or anyone who still has that God-shaped hole.

Okay, I've said enough. CarolM and KC, I'm putting a hammock up next to you guys. Hand me some coconut anything (love that coconut milk - ever tried it?)and pass that ball. I'll take my turn at throwing a few for May.

(CarolM - I left a big tub of Moose Tracks ice cream over on Facebook for you)

And I'd love to win a copy of Deep Trouble. I love your books, Mary!


Jan Drexler said...

Blogger kept eating my post, so I chose a "different identity". Take that blogger - we can get past your invisible force field!

Note to self: remember to ALWAYS copy your post before trying to publish it...

Mary Connealy said...

First I'll say that Huck Finn (to me) was a really HARD book to read. It's famous for how hard Twain worked on dialect and there are multiple different dialects in the book. It reminded me of The Tale of Two Cities.
Not because they're alike in the dialect, but because they're hard to read.

Second -- well, let me start a new comment. Something tells me this is going to be a HUGE comedown from yesterday....as well it should be!!!

Kathy said...

What an interesting post - a little literature class and the discussion reminds me of the actual class I was in. KC - what a thoughtful response too, got me thinking even more. Although I have to say I'm with Audra. I usually read for entertainment. There have been many times though when I prayed that I would gather a lesson out of all the words I read. It's probably a guilt induced prayer but God is faithful regardless of me and I can't count the times He has knocked me with a 2x4 and helped me "see" through a story one of you wrote.

Guess I'm getting a little off to topic. Anyway. I'd love a copy of your book Mary. I am currently knee deep in Montana Marriages and loving them. Blessings for your day! To all of you!


Mary Connealy said...

Second, KC, I wasn't comfortable with the scene either.
Just because Huck not only decides he's defy the law for his own ideas of right and wrong, but because after he does it he decides he'll defy ALL laws of right and wrong. If he can't get into heaven anyway, he might as well be the biggest sinner that ever lived.

But I think that's a separate issue from deciding not to turn Jim in. When Huck decides to 'sin' as Huck understands sin, it's not so much about heaven and hell as it's about freedom.

The idea that freedom allows you to make your choices. And yes, you might make the wrong choices, but that's freedom and it's the same choice God gives us.

KC Frantzen said...

Moose Tracks??

You brought Moose Tracks??

That's worth getting out of the hammock for.

YES, May, you can have a lick too.

Mary Connealy said...

Renee Ann, another knowledgable person on Huck Finn.

I just got it and re-read chunks of it, it reminded me why I read it only once in my life. Very heavy lifting. But I found that scene where Huck decides about Jim.

My real memory of Huck Finn is the ending. When Tom Sawyer shows up. To me that was the funnest part of the book. Tom and his efforts to help Jim escape.

I'm a simple woman. I just read it for the escapades and no one did escapades better than Tom Sawyer.
Which brings me to another comment.

Mary Connealy said...

I've always thought Harry Potter was as much like Tom Sawyer as anything.

Yes, the magic and wizards are different. But the idea of kids on their own, being naughty, breaking rules, sneaking around and ultimately triumphing over evil....that makes Harry Potter a much more life and death version of Tom Sawyer.

Mary Connealy said...

Jan, great comments.
Yes it's important to remmeber (as Vince also said) that though this is a very strong anti-slavery book, Twain wrote it AFTER the Civil War.
Not so big and brilliant an idea to demonize slavery after it's been outlawed. Almost, in fact, rates a........duh.

Casey said...

One of the most profound books I recently read was Crossing Oceans by Gina Holmes

Stories that make you think, that take it deeper than, like you said, just entertainment, are the kind of stories that just stick with you. I like of Julie's books. I read A Passion Most Pure expecting entertainment, and WOW, I got something so much more!

Thanks for the post, Mary. :)

CarolM said...

Ya'll [see? Dialect? ;)] can have the Moose Tracks. I'm having Half Baked.

Plus Chick-fil-A for an anniversary dinner tonight. Four kids to an always busy restaurant on a night that is usually kids' night*. That'll be... fun.


But it'll be yummy. And friends are joining us. So it's all good.

Plus my sister is taking the kids Friday night so we're going out then.

So Half Baked in my hammock. Wonder if Chick-fil-A delivers to unpubbed island...

*Tonight's kids' night has been postponed in favor of supporting Joplin. The owner of this store started at the store in Joplin over 20 years ago. Not the one the was damaged, but the mall one which was owned at the time by the current owner of the one that was damaged. 20% of sales tonight is going to help the families of that store.

Whitney said...

Interesting post, Mary! I read The Adventures of Tom Sawyer when I was in school, and it was... "okay." I never could get into Mark Twain’s stuff very much because… well… I found him to be a little too liberal. Sorry for knocking a great American classic—it’s worth a read for the history it means to our country and American literature.

Don’t enter me in the drawing as I received, and am eagerly anticipating, beginning Deep Trouble soon. ; )


Nancy Kimball said...

Mary, I could see the Harry Potter similarities. I hated Huck Finn. As a matter of fact, I hated every book I was ever forced to read for my education except for two.
I think mostly because I don't like to be made to do anything, LOL

My last book that was unexpectedly deep was Karen Witemeyer's To Win Her Heart. (So glad she visited Seekerville) I'm in the middle of Deep Trouble right now =)

This may sound WAY too philosophical, but I find there are three kinds of freedom.

1. Freedom in Christ
2. Civil Liberties (Traditional Freedom)
3. Freedom from Ourselves (Reconciling the human condition, carrying the "issues" that create internal conflict because of wrong beliefs and/or the juxtaposition of a sinful nature that remains even after salvation.)

I did not set out to write a book that turned a spotlight on all three, but that's what happened.
My hero (More closely related to Jim than Huck Finn) has never had the third, (peace inside), lost the second (slavery has been around a long time), and because of it, forgotten the first.

I write for the same reason I read fiction though, to be entertained. If there's a message, moral precept, and room for good, healthy debate and exchange of ideas, that's just extra. I have a suspicion that, like my WIP, all the writers of the great classics and a lot of them today get to the end of their works and then see they "said" something transcendent. But that's just me :p

Mary Connealy said...

Nancy, I know just what you mean about reading classics in school. I hated being forced to read them. Then, a few I read as adults, I really LOVED.
I think school kids should probably be reading romance novels and cop thrillers in class. (clean ones of course) To foster in them a love of READING rather than knowledge that they're letting roll of their backs.

My absolute favorite book of all time is To Kill a Mockingbird. And the second favorite, the one I consider the most powerful emotional experience of my reading life is, "A Lantern in Her Hand" by Bess Streeter Aldrich.

Aldrich is a Nebraska author which is why we were forced to read it in school I guess. It was either her or Willa Cather Or John Neihardt. Those are pretty much Nebraska's only authors until I came along (<<<<that's a JOKE people)

I read Aldrich's book and it was fine. Ho hum. Then as a young adult I read it again and I cried...like for THREE DAYS. Then I read it again as a young mother and I cried again for three days but for completely different reasons. Then I read it again as my children were leaving home and I CRIED SO HARD I'M AFRAID TO READ IT AGAIN!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

I'd be interested to see if it affects anyone else like that. It has a particular power for touching wives and mothers I think because Abby Deal sacrificed everything for love, for her husband and children.

And at each stage we both see the enormity of her sacrifice and the real power of it is, we see that it's worth it. That it was the right thing to do. Yes she gave up her dreams, but what she got in exchange, beautiful children, a husband she loved. It was the real dream, the right dream. Her accomplishments as a mother were much more important than any accomplishment she'd have acchieved if she'd persued her dream at the expense of the life she chose.
It's really really REALLY beautiful and important and powerful.

One woman's opinion.

I'm getting teary eyed just writing this.

Julie Hilton Steele said...

Mary, thanks for this thought provoker. I spent a lot of time in divinity school studying what makes folks risk their lives/reputations for others. For some it is a religious experience, for others just having an acquaintance with a particular person. Some see laws as man made in a way that makes them breakable depending on the circumstance. Others see the law makers as evil in the first place. I do think Huck Finn is an entertaining way of exploring the topic even as it is heavy as lead in some places.

Thanks, Vince, for pointing out the context of the novel. So many folks put their own take on it and get the timing all wrong!

FYI, I gave my Dad Twain's autobiography. He said some of his writing in this first volume was interesting. But he also complained that they included his inventory of a house in England down to the last little teacup and it was boring! I wonder what people of the time would have thought of his various scribbles.

Thanks again, Mary. Now does someone have any Pepto? I ate too much yesterday.

Peace, Julie

Mary Connealy said...

I read A Tale of Two Cities as an adult. And that book was HARD.
Crazy hard to read because of the dialect. I started it probably five times before I finally stuck with it all the way through.

I'm really glad I read it.
It's a far, far better thing I do than I have ever done before.

Absolutely inspirational.

I doubt I'll ever read it again though. Dickens is almost a foreign language. And sometimes Twain is, too.
Once you get onto it, you can read it pretty well and enjoy it, but man, it's daunting.

I mostly just read Seeker books. :)

Mary Connealy said...

Whitney, I liked Tom Sawyer enough to read it several times, though not for years.

And fyi, that whole tricking people into whitewashing your fence doesn't work.

Jan Drexler said...

Mary, I'm going to try "A Lantern in Her Hand" - like I need another book on my TBR list! But the library has it, and I'm always on the lookout for good books. Especially ones that make me cry.

One of my pet peeves about the way education is done (warning: homeschooler soap box coming) is requiring students to read books that are much too deep for them and not giving them the tools they need to read them intelligently. (How can you read The Scarlet Letter without any knowledge of Christianity and Puritanism???)


Okay, I'm done. Let's just say that we need to teach our children to enjoy reading good books, and you don't foster that kind of love by asking them to analyze and report on everything they read.

So my solution? We should all go back and re-read those books we hated in school - just for enjoyment. Most of them are great books. Really great.

Pass the ice cream. It's time for me to get my boys started on their school work for the day. And yes, we're reading for enjoyment every day :).

Mary Connealy said...

I've got To Win Her Heart by Karen Witemeyer on my TBR pile right now.
But I've got to read Dabby Guisti's book first.

I just finished reading for endorsement Erica Vetsch's October release. So, so good. I've been telling Erica she needed to be writing longer books and she finally obeyed me. Bride's Portrait of Dodge City, Kansas.
I loved her characters, just loved the whole historical take on Dodge City and photography. Such great backdrops for a cowboy romance.


Mary Connealy said...

Jan, I think you're so right. We are trained to hate great books by being forced to read them when we're too young to get them.

And yet to say school needs to be easier is sort of crazy because it seems like they keep dumbing it down every year.

I'm not sure what the answer is. My kids had to do something they called 'Junior Great Books' for a while in elementary school. My children attended a one room Country school house, as did I and my husband. A very personal education. No slipping between the cracks there...when you're the only kid in your grade, or maybe one of two or three.

I think that was an attempt to get simple yet important literature into our children's hands.
And I read some of the junior great books and showed them to the teacher and some of them were really questionable. She quit using them. Weird stuff.

And Jack London, how about that? I remember CALL OF THE WILD and WHITE FANG. But I also think it was one of the Junior Great Books (I coudl be remembering it wrong) but a Jack London short story that was just pretty much a guy, a dog and a sled. The guy just slowly but surely freezing to death.


Well, if you want to read a book about a guy freezing to death, nobody does it better. But it was pretty ugly to read.

There was one of those Junior Great Book flickering around in my head. I think the children killed their parents so something magical....a mirror or something...wouldn't be taken away. No wait, it was a house that was controlled by computers. The doors would lock and unlock, the temperature would set, the TV come on and the children were being somehow 'entertained' or something. Then the parents decided it was bad for the children and the house killed them and kept taking care of the children.

That's when we shut off the spigot of Junior Great Boosk.

Julie Lessman said...

Oh, MARE, what a thought-provoking post today -- I LOVE it!!!

And let FREEDOM ring ... in our country and in our books ... FREEDOM in Christ!!

Beth Moore says that "obedience is a ticket to freedom and rebellion is a ticket to slavery," and as Christian authors, THAT is the message of true freedom we are hoping to convey!! In my next book, A Heart Revealed, Charity tells Sean that she's learned that "forgiveness is really just another word for freedom," and that is what God and His message is really all about -- freedom from darkness into His glorious light!! Oh, I LOVE this subject!!

Great blog, Mare!!


Jan Drexler said...

Mary said "And yet to say school needs to be easier is sort of crazy because it seems like they keep dumbing it down every year."

School definitely does not need to be easier...just different.

Your Junior Great Books story is why I always counsel my children (ages 17-27!) to avoid the "young adult" section of the library...

Whitney said...

"And fyi, that whole tricking people into whitewashing your fence doesn't work."

LOL. I watched a film version of Tom Sawyer and Huckleberry Finn that had Jonathan Taylor Thomas and Eric Schweig (from Last of the Mohicans). Can't remember who played Finn. It was funny-- a pretty good take on the book. And JTT did a good job in the role at Tom Sawyer.

Missy Tippens said...

Really interesting, Mary! I took an American Lit class and don't remember a thing I learned. Or you know, now that I think about it...it may have been an English lit class! Now i don't feel quite so dumb. :)

travelingstacey said...

It's been a long time since I've read Huck Finn, but your post definitely brought to mind some other favorites that were moving and thought provoking. In fact, a friend and I were just discussing To Kill A Mockingbird this morning. She's reading it along with her teenager and loving it. I reread it a few years ago and enjoyed it so much. So many great themes. I can't help but revert back to children's lit...The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe will always be at the top of my list. The Giver was also very thought provoking (and somewhat controversial). It contemplates the value of human life. It definitely made me think! I'd love to have my name put in for Deep Trouble! Thanks! ~Stacey

travelingstacey said...

Oh...and I just read your comment about the "Junior books". I DO NOT like the way they encourage reading in our school system. They have something called AR (Accelerated Reader) and basically the kids just read so they can earn "points" by taking tests on the books they read. It's crazy. Part of their grade is based on how they do on these tests. Some of my greatest memories are when my teacher read to us for fun...and later I read some of the same books to my students. Books like Where the Red Fern Grows, Island of the Blue Dolphins, and so many others. Ok...I could go on and on about books...especially for kids. Let me step off my soapbox! : )

Nancy Kimball said...

Blogger hates me today! So frustrating. Anyway, thanks for sharing Mary, I've put "A Lantern in Her Hand" in my TBR.

I'd love to know what you think of To Win Her Heart when you get to it, but please don't enter Karen's fan fiction contest. I'd like to think I've got a shot at that haha. :p

Kav said...

Wow -- what a wonderful discussion you started, Mary!

Mary said: "let’s talk about how we lace freedom and a higher morality into our books." And God bless y'all for doing so!!!!!!!!!

I started reading Christian fiction a year and a half ago and I haven't looked back. A higher morality is one of the main reasons I keep reading.

The last general market book I picked up was loaned to me by a friend. "You'll love it," she gushed,"it's all about growing up in Ireland."

Well, I grew up partly in Ireland and then as an Irish immigrant in Canada so I gave it a go. Three paragraphs in I gave up. I'd counted fifteen vile swear words in those three paragraphs. No matter how good the story might have been I just couldn't get past that kind of blatantly repetitive language. Never mind the fact that my mother would have washed my mouth out with soap and I've never met an Irish person who swore that profusely or profanely!

So I pretty much stuck to kids lit and YA lit until Lorna Seilstad prodded me to read a Christian romance. And now, while I read for enjoyment, I find that each story helps reaffirm my faith and often prompts me to consider situations and feelings in my own life. I can honestly say that I am a better person for the fiction books I read now. So thank you, thank you, thank you to all you wonderful writers! You lift me up in so many ways.

Mary Connealy said...

Kav once in a while Christian authors will get into a discussion about the limitations of Christian fiction.
We can't have cuss words, no, not even our bad guys. We can't have sex scenes, no, not even our married couples.

But to me Christian books don't put nearly the limitations on my as NON-Christian books. In those books you (almost) HAVE to have cussing and graphic sex.

Now I'm not saying I never read a secular book. I have some authors I love that write secular. But to write it is waaaaaaaay different.

I'd have to write a book using words I never speak. (well, almost never!) But if I do speak them I know it's wrong. And now I've got a write a book for all the world to see using those words?
And I've tried to raise my children with high moral values. Then to turn around and write a book with an unmarried couple having sex?
It would be utter hypocracy.
So, I find freedom in Christian writing, because I'm not FORCED to do things I'd like to do. Yes, occasionally I chafe at the limits put on me. But not much. I've found my own limits to be pretty much within Christian fictions limits.

Mary Connealy said...

And I know what you mean about the overuse of profanity. Sometimes it reaches the level of pure laziness.

Renee Ann said...

I loved To Kill a Mockingbird and A Lantern in Her Hand. Two of my favorites to teach and to read. Mary, have you read Mrs. Mike? Another wonderful story.

This is a great discussion! Such insightful comments from all the friends of Seekerville. I was a young reader whose world view was greatly influenced by books. I could easily be swayed by a talented writer. After I became a Christian at age 16, I realized that authors are just men and women with biases and perhaps wrong interpretations of what was going on around them--especially if they had rejected the God of Truth. After that, some of my teachers didn't like what I wrote about their favorite authors in my high school essays . . . oops!

I'm so glad you (Mary) showed your teacher that some of the books aren't worth reading!

Mary Connealy said...

Renee Ann, I did read Mrs. Mike. Multiple times.
In fact you mentioning that book made me realize that I have been affected by it in my own writing.
I remember the book talked about losing (I'm sorry, I'm probably getting details wrong) but Mrs. Mike...didn't she have two children die in some disease outbreak. Cholera or Yellow Fever. Then she had more children and she reflected that people talked about 'losing a family'. Or talked about the children they lost in the typhoid epidemic and the children they lost in the Whooping Cough epidemic, combining their families into bunches by disease. And it seemed very matter-of-fact.
Of course losing those children was devastating. But I think people used to view death differently than we do now.
We now believe we should only die when it's 'our turn'. Anything less, dying young, is a staggering waste, a life long burden of grief if someone loses a child.
Death used to be accepted more as a part of life.
In the Montana Marriages Trilogy, in the first book, Montana Rose, the store keeper Mildred talks about losing two sons. And it's been a long, long time and she talks about those sons fondly, her memories all she has left and she's learned to accept their death and treat her memories like a comfort, almost like old friends.

And that attitude of Mildreds to cherish what she had of her children rather than rail against what she didn't have, came (at least partly) from Mrs. Mike.

Mary Connealy said...

And I'm going to say a bit more here about Freedom.

Freedom as we think of it, as Americans, isn't the same as freedom in Christ.

When I think faith was a huge part of it, whether modern messages accept that or not.

but the founders of our country were brilliant. They believed in God but they'd seen so much destruction in the name of God, particularly in England where the Catholics and the Anglicans would switch off ruling and try to purge those of a different faith.
So our founders didn't want our country attached to a particular faith. I think they believed we'd be a Christian nation. Their imagination no doubt failed them as to how far we would stray. But they didn't want 'an establishment of religion' because they feared a ruler who would pick a winner (faithwise) and punish all others.

So freedom to be whatever faith you chose was their attempt to prevent that from happening.

I think I had another point to make but I've lost my train of thought. :)

Renee Ann said...

Yes, you're right about how they viewed death so differently--maybe without so much bitterness. Mrs. Mike lost her children to cholera, and then she raised a friend's children. People at that time talked about their "first family," which referred to the kids that had died. It was pretty much accepted that all would lose family members to disease, accidents, and war. So that was one book that really opened my eyes to how different life used to be . . . Books are amazing things!

PatriciaW said...

Need to re-read Huck Finn. Read it in high school, and it didn't quite grab me then. Never as an adult. (Loved Tom Sawyer, though, even as a child.)

Nothing profound to add other than I appreciate how difficult it must have been to write such fare in that time. Yes, the war was over, but many carried the sentiments that led to the war. Imagine getting a publisher to sign on for such a topic. (Twain was self-published, wasn't he? Wonder whether that was by choice or necessity.)

Stacy, I'm with you on the AR tests, but they do encourage kids to read. I remember being challenged to read short stories on SAR cards and finishing the whole box in 2nd grade. My 2nd grader has found a love for history and biographies through the AR program.

Carol, sorry for the RJ.

This is why we were celebrating Seekerville as much as the Seekers yesterday. The diversity of topics and opinions always provides for fun and education.

Jan Drexler said...

Maybe your train of thought got derailed because you're still recovering from yesterday?

I've enjoyed the discussion on the limitations of writing secular books/Christian books. My dear husband asked me the same question - why not write the secular romances since they seem more lucrative? (he does like to play devil's advocate)

Like you, Mary, I just can't imagine teaching my children one thing and then promoting another in my writing!

I know how little it takes to justify sin, and I can't stomach the thought that I might influence someone, anyone, to commit a sin. Ever.

Anonymous said...

Is it working now?

I can totally get what you're saying. My Scottish pastor said recently that the great thing about being in America is seeing how much Americans LOVE being Americans. We do have a unique mindset and I believe it's drawn from the way our country was founded.


Can't get my blogger ID to work.
As far as the Puritans go, they get a lot more bad press than they deserve. For example, they weren't prohibitionists like many probably think they were. They were totally into following God AND conscience. Not to say there weren't extremists. There are in every camp. But they weren't the legalists people often think them to be.

I'd love to be in the drawing for your book, Mary. I have at least three of your books sitting on my shelf in my TBR pile. I'm debating whether or not to collect them first and then read them in order or not. :D

Off topic because some requested an update:

Joplin, Missouri tornado:
Did you all know CarolM is about an hour north? Thank God she's safe. Anybody hear from Andrea, though?

My cousin was found in one of the original make-shift morgues. The family is pretty devastated. Susan, his wife and my life long friend is beaten to a pulp, but she's getting a regular room at the hospital tonight or tomorrow. She gets to see her kids tonight, too. My FIL's cousin was killed, also. Been a rough week for us. Think I'm headed to bed for a nap. Too much to deal with.

Love you all and thank you for your thoughts and prayers regarding me and my family. Jesse was a great guy who loved his wife and kids without restraint. Maybe I'll right a hero in his honor someday.

Anonymous said...

Ok...that long post with ~Linnette after the first full paragraph and talking about the Joplin tornado is me. My blogger isn't working for whatever reason.


Mary Connealy said...

Linnette, I'm so sorry you lost loved ones in that storm. It's no wonder a lot of people were willing to at least wonder about the rapture last Sunday.
The storms and earthquakes and wars just seem to be everywhere.
God bless you.
If you hear of some group doing great work who could use help in Joplin, let us know.
I donated some money to Convoy of Hope, because it's advertised on KLOVE and I always trust them to do the research and choose great organizations.

Pepper said...

Deep stuff, Mary - but since you like writing about 'DEEP' stuff, i shouldn't be surprise ;-)

Never been a big fan of Huck Finn- so sorry (and I love good books), but the question here is very good. When can we trust our own 'standard'? Ooo, I think that might be getting too deep, eh? ;-)

But making that decision in Christian fiction is VERY tough. I'm in the middle of it right now with a Spec Fiction I'm working on. I see the depth of theology in it, the 'heart' of it- but what about the average reader? The beauty of the contradiction and 'weirdness' is clear to me - and I pray that my standard is the RIGHT standard.

So sorry - didn't mean to get off on that. Fiction that has impacted me - Redeeming Love, Mine is the Light, Petticoat Ranch (and this is because it was the first book I read where I KNEW I wanted to write THAT KIND OF STORY)

Mary Connealy said...

I've said to poeple before, I don't have an objection really to writing a secular book--as long as they let my characters live with a Christian view, don't swear and don't have graphic love scenes. If an ABA publisher can live with that then who knows????

Melanie Dickerson said...

Thanks, Mary, for the thought-provoking post! That part where Huck decides to go to hell always bothered me so much because he was actually doing the right thing in God's eyes, he just didn't know it, which frustrated me to no end. I would have loved to have tweaked that novel!!! HA! That professor would be quite appalled, wouldn't he?

Something that has been on my mind lately is a couple of blog posts I read after seeing links to them on facebook. Both of them said that women shouldn't read Christian romance novels, or watch "chick lit" movies (whatever that means) because both were the equivalent, for women, that looking at pornography is for men.

At first, I was defensive and wanted to tell them they were wrong. One of the posts was by a man and the other by a woman. The man I could easily dismiss as being legalistic and not having the first clue what he was talking about. The woman was not so easy to dismiss, as she had over 150 comments from women who, all but 2, agreed with her or were simply interested in the nonfiction book on marriage that she was giving away.

This has really troubled me, because so many of them said that reading romance novels made them dissatisfied with their husbands. I wracked my brain asking myself if that was true for me, but decided that it isn't. Do I have a perfect husband? No. But one thing that I realized was that READING NONFICTION BOOKS ON MARRIAGE HAVE MADE ME MORE DISSATISFIED WITH MY MARRIAGE THAN ANYTHING ELSE I'VE EVER READ. Why is that? Because the books tell you how wonderful your marriage can be, that you are broken and need to be fixed, and if you just follow their instructions, they will fix you and you will have the marriage you always dreamed of.

I used to read these kinds of books a lot. I followed their instructions but guess what? My marriage never became the wonderful, perfect relationship that they told me it would. Which brought forth terrible feelings of dissatisfaction in me. So does that make nonfiction marriage books wrong and sinful? Maybe. LOL!!!

If you are angry and dissatisfied with your husband, read one of Mary Connealy's books and you'll actually feel better about him!

How's that for philosophical deepness?

Mary Connealy said...

Well, Mel what that makes me think, the woman who thinks Christian fiction is the male equivalent of porn is....HUH?

It's maybe...if overdone...time not spent with your husband and children. I'm a voracious reader and there's no doubt in my mind that sometimes the world inside a book is a lot of more fun than the world outside. But I do most of my reading while my husband is sitting in the same room watching TV. I can't hardly watch TV anymore. It just doesn't engage me. I find myself reaching for a book. Or I'll watch a sitcom and at the end think, "I didn't even SMILE. Not ONCE for a half an hour."
So how is my reading a book any different than him watching TV? It's just what we do with downtime. And his TV shows are no more porn than my books are.

All I can say is, maybe for some women it is a problem. maybe those women are who wrote. But to equate it with porn? Christian fiction? How about erotica? Now there you might be able to make a case.

Mary Connealy said...

Pepper, I think so much can be done with spec fiction or fantasy, within the Christian Genre. Go for it.

Maybe, in Petticoat Ranch, those little girls roping and shooting and tying up bad guys, well maybe that's as much fantasy as The Wizard of Oz.

Mary Connealy said...

I've known several people who've gone to one of those Christian Marriage Encounter Weekends.

They seem a lot the same after as before. Life isn't always a dream come true. There may be moments like that, but mostly, a marriage works because two people make a committment and keep it. Sometimes they keep it with gritted teeth, but they keep it.

Jan Drexler said...

Melanie, interesting thoughts.

I always thought that a good Christian romance should point me to a better relationship with my husband - encouraging me to see myself as insufficient without Christ and the marriage He planned for me rather than "everything will be perfect if you just do what I do". That's what I hope to do in my writing.

And I agree with you, that reading non-fiction books on how to fix your marriage can be more harmful than good. The best book on marriage is the Bible.

Now, about Mary's books - I never did feel like shooting my husband. Which is good. But her heroes - as flawed as they are heroic - just show me how similarly heroic my own dear husband really is.

Mary Connealy said...

I also operate on the theory that people really don't change.
Even if they become believers they are still the same people.
Every one has skills and a basic personality style. they can use those skills for good or evil.
But if they're bossy, take charge people, that's not going to change, hopefully they'll just work for God.
If they're shy, really fundamentally shy people, they're not going to become brazen.
In Montana Rose, sweet submissive Cassie finally finds her backbone adn begins to believe what she thinks and what she wants has value, but she's just a mild mannered little thing and she always will be.
And Belle Tanner is always going to want to run her ranch.
Alex Buchanan is a doctor, a healer, on a soul deep level. He can't change that about himself. Beth McClellen is too, but she's not running from that part of herself and Alex is.

Mary Connealy said...

btw, Jan, my husband asks occasionally (a bit nervously) when he's reading one of my books and another husband has died, "Am I the hero that comes riding in to save the day? Or am I the dead husband?"

Michelle Stark Kurns said...

It's been a while since I read Huckleberry Finn...hmmm, I guess I need to go back and read it again, your post made me really think.

I do want to say that we are so fortunate to live in a country where freedom exsists and we can choose Christ. I had a friend who traveled to a middle east country and could not even take a Bible in with him. I can't imagine not having that choice. It is also amazing how when we choose Christ in our lives just how freeing for ourselves that is.

Just my 2 cents ;)

Linnette R Mullin said...

Mary, righto on the marriage thoughts! It's about commitment. Not to say there aren't legitimate reasons for breaking a marriage, but it should be more like 2% rather than 50+% divorce rate.

Linnette R Mullin said...

Thanks for the offer, Mary! I'll keep my eyes and ears open. I know the Red Cross is smack in the middle of EVERYTHING!!! They've been HUGE with organizing and supplying needs. But, I'll let you know if there's anyone else.

CarolM said...

Mary - LOL! At your hubby =D.

And Convoy of Hope is based in Springfield, near me, and I know a number of people involved in it. One of the deacons? elders? something? at my church is a big wig with them - CFO maybe? They do good work around the world. They were one of the first boots on the ground in Haiti because of the work they already do there. I don't know this guy well but I do know my pastor endorses them and I know him well enough to trust his judgement.

Back to cleaning house before heading to CFA for part of our Joplin support. Will bring back a big tray of chicken nuggets because that table's looking a little sparse.

Jackie S. said...

Trying again...blogger problems! I like your post, Mary.....I need to reread Huck Finn. Meantime, I want to read your new book....thanks for the chance.

Katy said...

I have never read Huckleberry Finn, but I always hear great things about it. :-) I think I listened to a bit of an audio version of it before. What I heard was good! :-)

Deep Trouble looks like a fun read! I'd love a chance to win! :-)

~ Katy

Mary Connealy said...

Good luck if you read Huck



Okay, moving on, good luck if you read Huck, it's kinda hard reading. Tons of strange accents, heavy dialects, all English but sort of onerous to read. imo
The ending when Tom Sawyer shows up is really fun though.

Cheryl Wyatt said...

Tried to comment earlier but blogger wouldn't take it. Hmmm...

Anyway, LOL Helen! I just saw a Folger's truck pull up on the main Seekerville dock...

Helen Gray said...


Our Missouri Baptist Convention has a Disaster Relief team that is always on the spot in every disaster. You can bet they're working their tails off here in our own state of Missouri.

If anyone should want to donate, just go to their web site at mobaptist.org and right under Missouri Disaster Relief Response is a link that says Click here to DONATE.


Helen Gray said...


Let me add that not one penny of money given to this fund will be siphoned off for administrative costs, etc. 100% will go to the relief effort.

Linnette R Mullin said...

Mary, OzarkFirst(dot)com is a great source for updates on Joplin and how to help victims.

Mary Connealy said...

Thanks Helen and Linette. I'll go see both places. The pictures are just awful.

Linnette R Mullin said...

Yes, they are. Unbelievable devastation!

Ausjenny said...

I have heard about Jopplin and the devastation there also Oklahoma now has suffered and a friend in east Texas is asking for prayer cos of a bad wild fire as that area of the state is like a tinder box so dry as it hasn't rained in months.
I feel for all affected.

karenk said...

loved reading all of the comments today...

kmkuka at yahoo dot com

Ausjenny said...

Sorry got the area wrong its west texas the odessa area I think.

Loves 2 Read Romance - Laura said...

Very interesting post Mary. I haven't read Huck Finn but now I may have to go pick up a copy. I remember reading To Kill A Mocking Bird. It also has issues of right and wrong and standing up for what you believe in even if it's not the popular choice.

I admire all of you authors that write Christian fiction. You all do such a great job with your characters and show that God forgives everyone no matter their past. Thank you so much for all your hard work!!

Is there any food left from yesterday? I got here a little late today.


CatMom said...

Thanks for this post today Mary--very thought-provoking! As some of the others have said, it's been a LONG time since I've read Huck Finn, so your post makes me want to re-read it and refresh my memory on Mark Twain. ~ @Carol, so sorry about your news, but hang in there (and enjoy the chocolate chip cookies I brought--with LOTS of extra choc. chips in them!). ~ Blessings, Patti Jo
p.s. @Helen, thank you for the info. on donations for Missouri. I've been lifting up all those affected in my prayers, and will continue.

KC Frantzen said...

re: comments around 1:20 and 1:34 - limitations on what to write, etc.

This is EXACTLY the reason we formed our own publishing company and are doing our own thing because, so far, I've not found anyone in the publishing world interested in what I'm writing...

Children's books (middle grade) from a Christian world view, but NOT Christian. It's character driven and a spy story, or turns into one. ;D

We'll see how it goes, but yeah - that's one of the main reasons we are doing this.

Thank goodness there ARE a few folks out there who are winning awards (Melanie!) but even The Healer's Apprentice was pubbed by a Christian house.

I'm purposely targeting the secular market, though I talk about God and *gasp* pray in Jesus' name when the situation is calling for prayer.

As you said Mary, laziness too, regarding the language and subject matter. These days, YA is code for sex. And disgusting at that...

I'm no prude but honestly - the stuff that passes for children's literature these days astounds me.


Stepping off MY soapbox now! Sorry.

Heard about Joplin of course, and now OK City area. Praying for you all. So sorry to hear about loss of life among those we know.

It seems God continues to give us wake up calls, I hope people are listening...

'Night everyone.

Pam Hillman said...

Linnette, my heart breaks for all those in the Joplin area, and especially for you and your family.

God bless you all.

Walt Mussell said...

It took me all day to get here. I've never had that thought about Huck Finn. I remember reading it as a kid and enjoying it but then I thought Twain was cool in general.

As for the books that have touched me most, I still like Don Quixote.


Dee LeRoye said...

Earlier this spring I saw "Huck" over in Iowa as a community play. The acting and singing were great, but I did NOT appreciate the storyline or the misleading message that one gets to heaven by being good.

"The Land" was required reading for my 8th grade daughter. Because she has an inhibited comprehension level, my husband and I read the story with her. The mixed blood in the hero's veins makes achieving his dream of owning land a struggle, but his faith in his Lord and himself is a reminder that life is worth the living. I'm saying "The Land" deserves more notice than Twain's classic. A reader can actually understand the moral of the story without having to dig it out.

Anita Mae Draper said...

Fascinating post, Mary. I never thought of it that way. But that old Sam was such an intelligent guy it makes sense that he'd sneak something like this in and then wait to see what develops.

Anita Mae.