Mark Twain has been called the American Cervantes, our Homer, our Tolstoy, our Shakespeare. Ernest Hemingway maintained that "all modern American literature comes from one book by Mark Twain called Huckleberry Finn." President Franklin Delano Roosevelt took the phrase "New Deal" from A Connecticut Yankee in King Arthur's Court. Twain's Gilded Age gave an entire era its name. Twain is everywhere--in ads for Bass Ale, in episodes of "Star Trek," as a greeter in Nevada's Silver Legacy casino. Clearly, the reports of his death have been greatly exaggerated. In Lighting Out for the Territory, Twain scholar Shelley Fisher Fishkin blends personal narrative with reflections on history, literature, and popular culture to provide a lively and provocative look at who Mark Twain really was, how he got to be that way, and what we do with his legacy today.
Fishkin illuminates the many ways that America has embraced Mark Twain--from the scenes and plots of his novels, to his famous quips, to his bushy-haired, white-suited persona. She reveals that we have constructed a Twain often far removed from the actual writer. For instance, we travel to Hannibal, Missouri, Mark Twain's home town, a locale that in his work is both the embodiment of the innocence of childhood and also an emblem of hypocrisy, barbarity, and moral rot. The author spotlights the fact that Hannibal today attracts hundreds of thousands of tourists and takes in millions yearly, by focusing on Tom Sawyer's boyhood exploits--marble-shoots and white-washed fences--and ignoring Twain's portraits of the darker side of the slave South. The narrative moves back and forth from modern Hannibal to antebellum Hannibal and to Mark Twain's childhood experiences with brutality and slavery. Her exploration of those subjects in his work shows that Tom Sawyer's fence isn't the only thing being white-washed in Hannibal. Fishkin's research yields fresh insights into the remarkable story of how this child of slaveholders became the author of the most powerful anti-racist novel by an American.
Whether lending his name to a pizza parlor in Louisiana, a diner in Jackson Heights, New York, or an asteroid in outer space, whether making cameo appearances on "Cheers" and "Bonanza," or turning up in novels as a detective or a love interest, Mark Twain's presence in contemporary culture is pervasive and intriguing. Fishkin's wide-ranging examination of that presence demonstrates how Twain and his work echo, ripple, and reverberate throughout our society. We learn that Walt Disney was a great fan of Twain's fiction (in fact, "Tom Sawyer's Island" in Disneyland is the only part of the park that Disney himself designed) as is Chuck Jones, who credits the genesis of cartoon character Wile E. Coyote to the comic description of a coyote in Roughing It. We learn of Mark Twain impersonators (Hal Holbrook, for instance, has played Twain in some 1,500 performances) and recent movie versions of Twain books, such as A Million to Juan. And we discover how Twain's image can be seen in claymation, in animatronics and robotics, in virtual reality, and on any number of home-pages on the Internet.
Lighting Out for the Territory offers an engrossing look at how Mark Twain's life and work have been cherished, memorialized, exploited, and misunderstood. It offers a wealth of insight into Twain, into his work, and into our nation, both past and present.
"An energetic reoprt on how Twain's attitude toward race developed, how his works have been used and abused, and how the image of himself that he so carefully invented has been coerced into making guest appearances in other people's fiction, movies, plays, even 'Star Trek: The Next Generation.'"--Peter S. Prescott, The Washington Post Book World
"Fascinating and cogent...a call to arms that we not forget America's history of racism by banning from our classrooms one of the few authors who wrote about it with honesty and clarity."--Publisher's Weekly
"An illuminating companion to any consideration of Twain's work."--David Walton, The New York Times Book Review
"Exuberant and provocative....A fearless and captivating voyage through Twains many dimensions."--Henry Louis Gates, Jr.
"[Fishkin] is an absolutely devastating critic of racism."--Greil Marcus, Los Angeles Times Book Review
"Ought to be required reading for Twain's critics and teachers of Huck Finn."--George Thomas, Salt Lake Tribune
"Easily the most courageous work on Mark Twain in recent memory,...the kind of book that Mark Twain himself would have loved: it boils over with facts, wisdom, opinions, and speculations and fits no known literary genre."--R. Kent Rasmussen, Magill's Literary Annual
"A terrific read."--Bobbie Ann Mason
"Invaluable."--Barry Crimmins, The Cleveland Plain Dealer
"I have been deeply excited by this book....[Fishkin] writes with the passion of a tiger."--Hal Holbrook
"Exuberant and provocative.... A fearless and captivating voyage through Twain's many dimensions. Twain's implicit moral vision and his searing wit, combined with a mastery of the vernacular, make him a timeless storyteller whose work continues to offer priceless insight into the state of the nation's intellectual health, its sense of humor about itself, and the shifting tides of race relations."--Henry Louis Gates, Jr.
"Shelley Fisher Fishkin's Lighting Out for the Territory is a terrific read, a lively personal narrative that is also dead serious. Her awesome amount of research uncovers fascinating stories that document Mark Twain's anti-racist views and illuminate the durability of Adventures of Huckleberry Finn. Lighting Out for the Territory should be a guidebook for every schoolteacher."--Bobbie Ann Mason, author of Shiloh and Other
Stories, In Country, Spence + Lila, Love Life, and Feather Crowns
"I have been deeply excited by this book. Shelley Fisher Fishkin has joined the trinity of instinct, intelligence, and common sense with research that would pull a mule train and blasted through the boundaries of timidity and political correctness that barricade Mark Twain and Huckleberry Finn from the humanity they wish to serve. With the passion of a tigress she delivers insights from a global cadre of writers, black and white, pro and con, to drive
home the point that Huckleberry Finn is a whole book, not a half-a-one; that it mirrors the shame, despair, and hypocrisy of the racism which has bloodied America; that the book is a 'raft of hope' for those with the guts to take that ride."--Hal Holbrook, Tony Award-winning actor for his solo portrayal of
"A lively look at Twain and how we use and abuse his legacy."--The Atlanta Journal-Constitution
"Fishkin is fascinating and cogent throughout: tough on censorship, soft on Twain, Fishkin's book is a call to arms that we not forget America's history of racism by banning from our classrooms one of the few authors who wrote about it with honesty and clarity."--Publisher's Weekly
"Ms. Fishkin's 'reflections on Mark Twain and American culture' are an illuminating companion to any consideration of Twain's work."--New York Times book Review
"Lighting Out for the Territory is an energetic report on how Twain's attitude toward race developed, how his works have been used and abused, and how the image of himself that he so carefully invented has been coerced in amking guest appearances in other people's fiction, movies, plays..."--Washington Post.com
"Lovers of literature, aware of what the best authors give us beyond printed words, ought to savor Fishkin's reflections."--Kansas City Star
"Lighting Out for the Territory is a winsome, iconoclastic book crafted with the general reader in mind: it mixes the colloquial with the smart; it spanks society where it needs to be spanked. It calls to mind the occasional scholar in Twain."--The Columbus Dispatch
"Jargon-free and reader-friendly...Library Journal
"Easily the most courageous work on Mark Twain in recent memory...the kind of book that Mark Twain himself would have loved: it boils over with facts, wisdom, opinions, and speculations and fits no known literary genre."--R. Kent Rasmussen, Magill's Literary Annual
"In deftly mixing both familiar and startling glimpses of Twain's legacy in popular culture with sober reflections on the meaning of his greating work, Adventures of Huckleberry Finn, Fishkin serves up well-seasoned biographical and critical insights infused with a lively and dramatic personal narrative. Part travelogue, part intellectual odyssey, part polemic, and all passionately devoted to understanding the immense figure of Mark Twain, the book
combines densely packed research with a lively sense of place and feel for the dramatic moment."--Jeanne Campbell Reesman, American Literature
"One finishes Lighting Out Foe the Territory with a clearer understanding of the way in which Twain's personal values were shaped and of the relevance of his perceptions of America's problems and its promise."--Anthony J. Pucci,Kliatt