From the Mighty Mississippi to the Grand River

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Our Tuesday Fox asked, “If you were asked to rewrite/modernize a classic novel, which one would you want to adapt?” 

As I’ve mentioned before, I really haven’t read many classic novels. I read a few in high school (mainly the ones that were required), but since then I’ve avoided novels that feature a lot of pain and suffering, and gravitated toward those that have a feel-good ending. In preparing for this post, I consulted a list of Classic novels and finally settled on one that I had read and actually enjoyed – Tom Sawyer. Yes, there were some dark moments, but overall, it’s a book about an enterprising and clever young man.

So, how would I rewrite or modernize this classic tale? The setting would be different. I’d make it a contemporary young adult or middle grade story. Since I’ve never lived near the Mississippi River, I’d have to relocate Tom to West Michigan, so he and his friend Huck would have to have their adventures along the Grand River, which runs east-west through most of Michigan’s lower peninsula. There are several small towns along the river, and during the summertime I could envision a couple of boys taking a paddle boat from Grand Rapids toward the state’s western shore. There’s even a gypsum mine near the river, just southwest of Grand Rapids, where the climactic ending of the story could take place.

I’d have to make a few changes with the characters. The character known as Injun Joe would definitely have to be renamed. Perhaps I could name him Joe Shark and make him a real estate mogul who kills Dr. Robinson because he wanted to buy the clinic in order to build a big apartment complex. Aunt Polly wouldn’t have any slaves, of course, but she’d probably pay local kids to do things like mow the grass in the summertime and shovel the driveway in the wintertime. So young Jim, the slave in Twain’s story, would be the son of a neighbor. The rest of the characters would be pretty much the same as in the original. 

As for the plot itself, I couldn’t think of much that I would change, except for the part when Tom, Huck, and Joe Harper skip school and run away. In today’s world, the police would become involved quite soon. There would be television coverage and search parties. I could envision the boys seeing the coverage somehow – perhaps they happen to hear their names on the news while stealing food from a restaurant dumpster. I also think I’d change Tom’s argument for convincing Huck to go back to the Widow Douglas at the end, but I’m not sure what that would be. Perhaps he could persuade Huck that if he stuck it out with the widow, eventually some of her wealth would be left to him.

With apologies to Samuel Clemens, here’s my contemporary version of The Adventures of Tom Sawyer.


About Patricia Kiyono

During her first career, Patricia Kiyono taught elementary music, computer classes, elementary classrooms, and junior high social studies. She now teaches music education at the university level. She lives in southwest Michigan with her husband, not far from her five children, nine grandchildren (so far), and great-granddaughters. Current interests, aside from writing, include sewing, crocheting, scrapbooking, and music. A love of travel and an interest in faraway people inspires her to create stories about different cultures. Check out her sweet historical contemporary romances at her Amazon author page:
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11 Responses to From the Mighty Mississippi to the Grand River

  1. Interesting! Tom could definitely use an upgrade.It’s a great story, but wow, it really is offensive in today’s world. I am going to have to really give this idea some thought for Friday.I am running behind.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Diane Burton says:

    I agree about not wanting to read dark, depressing stories, even if they are “classics.” Give me a satisfying ending–and HEA or happy-for-now. Isn’t it amazing how offensive today’s reader finds this book? I like your changes.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Patricia Kiyono says:

      Since we’re romance writers, we need that Happily-ever-after, don’t we? Yes, society has definitely changed our way of looking at the world. Thanks so much for stopping in!


  3. Jeff Salter says:

    I’m somewhat ashamed to admit — as a Lit major in college — that I never read the actual Twain books which featured Tom, or Huck, or both. So my familiarity comes mainly from film versions and the Classics Illustrated comic books.
    That said, I like your approach to relocating and updating this title. Critics — both literary and social — have lambasted these Huck & Tom stories for generations, mainly because of the slavery issues and the liberal use of the “N” epithet. And that’s a shame. The core story itself deserves a chance to be read… and your overhaul is just the kind of treatment it needs.

    Liked by 1 person

  4. I would never presume to think I could change anything in a classic. There is a reason why they are classics. But that’s just me. I’ll stick with changing what needs to be changed in my own works. LOL

    Liked by 2 people

    • Patricia Kiyono says:

      I’ll have to agree with you. We’ve got plenty of our own stories without trying to alter the ones that have already been written. Thanks for weighing in!

      Liked by 1 person

  5. Elaine Cantrell says:

    The book was a product of it’s time so I don’t think anyone should be surprised about the content. Somehow people are though. I liked the changes you said you’d make.


    • Patricia Kiyono says:

      I suppose the concern is that people don’t want to endorse these actions and vocabulary as acceptable. It’s like teaching about world events that aren’t palatable – we need to teach younger generations what is and isn’t good, and literature from previous generations can illustrate that.


  6. I think the changes that you could make while modernizing this book would really resonate with children of today. Who doesn’t like an adventure?


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