Huck Finn and Tom Sawyer Among the Indians

by Mark Twain and Lee Nelson

Published by Cedar Fort

277 pages, 2003


Unfinished Business

Reviewed by Chuck Gregory


This here's what I think about this story a feller wrote 'bout my old friends Huck Finn and Tom Sawyer. Actually I never met Huck and Tom but I'm sure they'd be my friends if I had. Leastways, I'd like to be their friend. 'Specially old Huck: he's quite a character. Sure does get into a lot of trouble, though.

I won't try to write the entire review in the style of the book, because I can't do it nearly as well as Mark Twain. But my hat is off to Lee Nelson, who picked up where Twain left off and finished this book. It's funny -- earlier this year I had the pleasure of reading and reviewing a novel -- The Mighty Orinoco, by Jules Verne -- written in 1898 but just published for the first time in English. And now I have recently read and am now reviewing another novel from the 19th century.

This time, the novel was only started at that time. Mark Twain never finished or published Huck Finn and Tom Sawyer Among the Indians. The unfinished story did appear in Life Magazine in 1968, and it piqued the interest of a young man at Brigham Young University. Now, in 2003, Lee Nelson has completed the vision that he glimpsed 35 years ago. He picked up the story, with the characters in an awful mess and unsure where to turn, and he made it his own -- but he kept so close to the style and themes of Mark Twain that it is unquestionably still his work.

Nelson says, "I look at this work as a journey into the American west of the mid-1800s, through the eyes of Mississippi River river rat Huck Finn, began by Huck's creator, Mark Twain, and finished by one of his ardent fans, Lee Nelson. No more, no less. And, if you'd rather it be something else, it don't make no difference to me, and I ain't going to argue about it."

Lee Nelson followed the lead of Mark Twain in another way with this book. In Huckleberry Finn, Twain had his characters floating on a raft down the Mississippi, and it appears that he fully intended to take them up the Ohio River, the highway to freedom for Jim. That's certainly what the characters thought, and the reader along with them. I seem to recall that there is evidence of Twain originally planning to follow that plot to its logical conclusion, but then he realized he knew nothing about the Ohio River. He knew about the Mississippi River -- and so, with one of the most sudden changes of direction in any novel, he arranged for them to continue downstream. He stayed with the places and the people he knew best.

Lee Nelson knows the West. He especially knows the Mormons and their historic struggle to maintain their identity in the face of fierce opposition from the United States Army. He knows about Indian tribes who sought nothing more than to be left alone, who grew in number and strength by accepting new members who that proved worthy. And so his characters -- Twain's orphans adopted by Nelson -- somehow end up in the middle of a war that they make their own.

I suspect that Mark Twain left this novel unfinished because he once again wrote his characters into a situation beyond his own experience. Nelson found a way to move the story and the characters into his own territory. Yet it was only after some research that I could identify where Twain left off and Nelson started. Nelson adopted not only the characters but the style so well that the transition is seamless. I've always loved the writing of Mark Twain and I feel extremely lucky that Nelson, my fellow fan, had the talent to finish this book.

Lee, you ain't going to get no argument from me. You took this story and made it your own. No more, no less. You did it and I liked it. That's it. | October 2003

Chuck Gregory calls himself a Renaissance Man because he has such a variety of skills and interests. He does computer consulting, writes opinion pieces and book reviews, works with mental health consumers and runs a print shop -- but still manages to read at least three books a week. He lives with his wife in Fort Lauderdale, Florida.