Two days after teaching Tom Sawyer (see Part 1), I find myself writing a grant proposal to visit libraries with Twain collections. So, I’m thinking about him in the scope of my research, not just as a fan or a teacher.
Twain is important in my research, partly because he’s the only writer of postbellum 19th-century American science fiction most people know. Lu Senarens? Garrett P. Serviss? These guys aren’t household names.
But everyone knows Twain and his time-travel novel, A Connecticut Yankee in King Arthur’s Court. If someone’s really into Twain, they also know his Tom Sawyer Abroad, which features Tom, Huck, and Jim commandeering a mad scientist’s air balloon to fly to Africa.
The template for that kind of story had already been established by Jules Verne and numerous U.S. dime novels before Twain touched it. (In fact, Senarens’s boy adventurer–Frank Reade, Jr.–frequently traveled in airships with two sidekicks, a boisterous buddy with an Irish surname and an older African-American man who was alternately portrayed as noble or pathetically comic; even the make-up of Twain’s crew wasn’t wholly unique.)
Twain did it well, though, and to a large audience. He’s a touchstone figure for the field.