Spunkwater, Spunkwater! Critical Essays

James Playsted Wood


(Critical Edition of Young Adult Fiction)

Twain commissioned Albert Bigelow Paine to write his official biography, but because that work is three volumes long and considerably complex, Wood’s account of Twain’s life is more appropriate for young adult readers who are interested in discovering the writer in a less detailed manner. The author adopts an informal tone but still speaks with the voice of an authoritative biographer. The book’s appeal lies in the unfolding tale of Twain’s irreverence about almost everything; Twain gets away with things most people do not dare try.

Wood prefaces chapter 1 with a brief discussion of the subject that many readers will already associate with Twain: boyhood. He notes that, although Twain did not “create boyhood,” he did create two fictional characters—Tom Sawyer and Huckleberry Finn—who “are boyhood itself.” Because Wood recognizes that Twain owes his success to the impulsive, carefree, and boyish charm of Samuel Langhorne Clemens (a personality not unlike his two famous fictional counterparts, Tom and Huck), the book focuses on the amusingly mischievous character that is the melding of Clemens and Twain.

In order to explain and define his subject, Wood shares stories that reflect Twain’s personality, and many of the author’s well-chosen details provide perceptive insights. That he was publicly shamed for his unfamiliarity with tobacco at the age of seven can be linked to his regular adult habit of three hundred cigars per month. His knack for leadership with his boyhood pals matured into his overwhelming popularity as an adult entertainer whom the nation idolized. That...

(The entire section is 660 words.)