30 Things Turning 30 in 2017

iStock
iStock

If you were born in 1987, you're in good company! Here's our annual list celebrating 30 things (products, companies, TV shows, books, heck—even people!) turning 30 this year.

1. CHERRY GARCIA

Getty Images

Ben & Jerry's introduced the flavor Cherry Garcia on February 15, 1987. Honoring the Grateful Dead's Jerry Garcia, the flavor was originally suggested by Jane Williamson, a fan. She had contacted the company several times with the idea, and her suggestion turned into a hit. The company thanked her with a year's supply of Ben & Jerry's.

2. THE PRINCESS BRIDE

The Princess Bride hit theaters on September 25, 1987, and became an instant classic. Featuring the Cliffs of Insanity, the Pit of Despair, and Rodents of Unusual Size, the film struck a chord with lovers of adventure, romance, and fantasy. It also gave us a terrific revenge tale, as Mandy Patinkin's character says: "Hello, my name is Inigo Montoya. You killed my father. Prepare to die."

If you're a super-fan, there's an entire website devoted to the movie. (We have our own facts about the movie here). They also sell "tweasure." And if you haven't read it, William Goldman's original book—published way back in 1973—is inconceivably good.

3. THE LEGEND OF ZELDA (IN THE U.S.)

As with many Nintendo games, The Legend of Zelda has multiple birthdays. It was first released in Japan in 1986, but had its U.S. debut on August 22, 1987 in a signature gold-colored cartridge including a special battery pack to keep saved game data. Meanwhile, Japanese players had been enjoying Zelda II: The Adventure of Link since January 14, 1987.

In the three decades since Zelda reached America, more than a dozen sequels have emerged. It remains one of Nintendo's most popular franchises. The latest installment, The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild, is slated for release this year.

4. PANERA BREAD

In 1987, the first St. Louis Break Company opened in Kirkwood, Missouri. It would go on to expand to several more locations before attracting the attention of Au Bon Pain, which was trying to enter the suburban market. By the late '90s, the chain was renamed to its current Panera Bread. The name "Panera" is derived from the Latin for, effectively, "breadbasket." The chain features soups, salads, and sandwiches in addition to typical bakery fare.

The company now has over 2000 locations, and in the mid-2000s gained fame for its free Wi-Fi. These days, your free Wi-Fi time may be capped at 30 minutes.

5. U2'S THE JOSHUA TREE

On March 9, 1987, U2 released their epic album The Joshua Tree, featuring smash hit singles "With or Without You," "I Still Haven't Found What I'm Looking For," and "Where the Streets Have No Name." The supporting tour was suitably epic, and during the tour they shot scenes for the upcoming album and film Rattle and HumThe Joshua Tree was U2's first album to reach No. 1 in the U.S.

Other big music releases in 1987 include Michael Jackson's Bad; George Michael's solo debut, Faith; The Cure's Kiss Me, Kiss Me, Kiss Me; Aerosmith's Permanent Vacation; Fleetwood Mac's Tango in the Night; Def Leppard's Hysteria; and Guns N’ Roses's seminal Appetite for Destruction.

6. FULL HOUSE

The quintessential American '80s sitcom Full House premiered on September 22, 1987. It had a slightly grim premise under its wacky surface: After the death of anchorman Danny Tanner's wife, he pulls his best friend and his brother-in-law into his San Francisco home to help care for his three daughters. Fortunately, hilarity ensued, and we all learned catch phrases like Dave Coulier's "Cut—it—out," the Olsen twins' "Aw, nuts!" and Jodie Sweetin's "How rude!"

Today, the web is full of fan sites and even a podcast. Netflix launched the spinoff series Fuller House in 2016, featuring an all-grown-up Candace Cameron Bure as D.J. Tanner-Fuller. Fuller. Get it? Huh? Oh well. Watch the hair!

7. THE SIMPSONS (ON THE TRACEY ULLMAN SHOW)

Before The Simpsons had their own show, they appeared in animated shorts on The Tracey Ullman Show. The first short appeared on April 19, 1987. Entitled "Good Night," it showed Bart, Lisa, and Maggie going through their bedtime routines, inadvertently becoming terrified by their clueless parents' comments.

Looking back at the animated shorts, most of the show's DNA is already in place. Although the art is crude and some of the characters aren't full developed, the core dynamics are there—even including Itchy and Scratchy!

8. PRESIDENT REAGAN'S "TEAR DOWN THIS WALL" SPEECH

On June 12, 1987, President Ronald Reagan visited West Berlin to deliver a speech. Standing by the Brandenburg Gate, he exhorted Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev to "Tear down this wall!" At the time, the Berlin Wall was just over 25 years old. It would begin to fall in late 1989. While the president's speech didn't cause the fall by itself, it sure felt like a big factor at the time. President Reagan said, in part:

There is one sign the Soviets can make that would be unmistakable, that would advance dramatically the cause of freedom and peace. General Secretary Gorbachev, if you seek peace, if you seek prosperity for the Soviet Union and Eastern Europe, if you seek liberalization, come here to this gate. Mr. Gorbachev, open this gate. Mr. Gorbachev, tear down this wall!

The speech touched on a variety of other issues as well, including President Reagan's desire to limit nuclear weapons proliferation. At one point he called for the Soviets and the U.S. to "[eliminate], for the first time, an entire class of nuclear weapons from the face of the Earth."

You can watch the entire speech courtesy of Wikimedia Commons, or check out the money quote in the YouTube clip embedded above.

9. BLACK MONDAY

Monday, October 19, 1987 was a rough day. Stock markets crashed worldwide, and the Dow Jones Industrial Average lost 22 percent of its value in one day. In previous months, the Dow had soared more than 44 percent over the previous year's close. Starting in mid-October, the Dow was hit by a series of major losses, culminating in the crash of Black Monday (which is, incidentally, known as Black Tuesday in Australia and New Zealand, due to time zone differences).

While Black Monday brought us the biggest one-day drop in the history of the Dow Jones Industrial Average, the market recovered quickly. Over half the losses were regained in just two days of trading. Then, early in 1989, the Dow surpassed its previous high. The most notable effect of the crash was the creation of tools to temporarily halt trading (seen as a hedge against computer-trading programs running amok) to reduce volatility.

10. CANADA'S LOONIE

In June 1987, Canada introduced a new $1 coin to replace paper $1 notes. The coin featured the image of a loon, and the coin quickly earned the nickname "loonie." (Over the years, various non-loon versions have been minted; the Royal Canadian Mint maintains a nice list.)

In 1996, the Canadian $2 coin debuted. Predictably, it became known as the "toonie."

11. STAR TREK: THE NEXT GENERATION

Star Trek fans rejoiced when Star Trek: The Next Generation aired on September 28, 1987. The original series had stopped producing episodes in 1969, though TV syndication, new movies, and fan conventions kept the series alive in the pop culture landscape.

Helmed by Trek creator Gene Roddenberry, TNG followed a later iteration of the starship Enterprise on a "continuing mission" of exploration. It was set a hundred years after the original show, and Roddenberry had some odd rules of play. He suggested that conflict among members of the crew would not exist in this new future, which led to awkward plots in the first few years of the show. (This lack of internal conflict required external forces to emerge, constantly, to create conflict.)

TNG was the background TV of many '90s kids' childhoods, as hour-long episodes ran in reruns after school. The show ran for seven seasons and produced a staggering 178 individual episodes. It still runs in syndication today, and we write about it often.

12. DIRTY DANCING

Released on August 21, 1987, Dirty Dancing was a massive hit. Featuring Jennifer Grey and Patrick Swayze in period drama, the movie took us all the way back to 1963. (That's a gap of 24 years. If we made a modern Dirty Dancing with the same time gap, it would be set in the good old days of 1993.) As Grey's character "Baby" unleashes her inner dancer, Swayze's "Johnny" taught America to love dancing again. Dirty Dancing won one Academy Award, for Best Original Song: "(I've Had) The Time of My Life." That song also picked up a Golden Globe and a Grammy.

Just remember: "Nobody puts Baby in a corner."

13. BABY JESSICA'S RESCUE

On October 14, 1987, 18-month-old "Baby Jessica" McClure fell down a well in her aunt's back yard. The well shaft was just 8 inches in diameter, and Baby Jessica was stuck 22 feet underground.

For the next 58 hours, TV viewers were glued to CNN TV coverage as rescuers worked to save Baby Jessica's life. They drilled a much wider hole parallel to the well, then tunneled from the larger hole to the smaller well shaft. While this went on, rescuers added oxygen to Baby Jessica's well shaft, hoping to keep her breathing. Adults spoke to her, singing songs and trying to stay in contact.

On October 16, 1987, the rescue was successful—and it was televised. Baby Jessica was safe, and she went on to live a normal life. Local news photographer Scott Shaw snapped a photo of her rescue that won a Pulitzer Prize.

14. THE MAX HEADROOM INCIDENT

On the evening of November 22, 1987, Chicago-area TV viewers saw something unexpected. A news broadcast on WGN was interrupted for just under 30 seconds by a guy wearing a Max Headroom mask. The audio didn't work, and the station successfully cut the pirate out quickly.

The TV pirate struck again that night during an episode of Dr. Who on WTTW. The show was interrupted for about 90 seconds when the faux Max Headroom cut into the signal and spoke in heavily distorted seeming non-sequiturs, ultimately showing himself being spanked by a fly swatter. The incident remains a mystery, as the perpetrator has never been identified or caught.

(For our younger readers, check out this article for an explanation of who or what Max Headroom was.)

15. PROZAC

In December 1987, the FDA approved Prozac, a prescription antidepressant known generically as Fluoxetine. The drug was a blockbuster hit, soon becoming a multibillion-dollar-a-year business for drugmaker Eli Lilly.

Prozac was also a cultural milestone, leading to a series of books about depression and medication, including Prozac Nation, Prozac Diary, and Listening to Prozac. Prozac quickly became synonymous with antidepressant drugs in general, and remains a true icon of the 1980s.

16. MARRIED... WITH CHILDREN

When Fox launched in late 1986, it went head to head with the Big Three TV companies: ABC, CBS, and NBC. Fox was looking to join that lineup, and it quickly cemented itself as a player with a series of popular shows, including The Tracey Ullman Show, 21 Jump Street, and the instant classic Married... With Children.

The show focused initially on Al Bundy (Ed O'Neill), a dimwitted women's shoe salesman with a feisty family. It launched on April 5, 1987 and ran for just over a decade, earning modest ratings for the channel as part of its Sunday night lineup (which would later be anchored by The Simpsons).

17. MICHAEL JORDAN'S 58-POINT GAME

On February 26, 1987, Michael Jordan set a Chicago record by scoring 58 points in a regular-season game. He led the Bulls to beat the Nets 128-113. He voluntarily stopped playing after setting the record, and told The New York Times:

"I knew the fans wanted me to get 60, then 63, and maybe 70. But the bottom line is, that by scoring more points I'll always have to shoot for more and more, and there's a lot more to the game."

Jordan had previously set a playoff game record in May 1986, scoring 63 points against the Celtics. His records are so numerous that Wikipedia has a long article devoted solely to his achievements.

18. LARRY BIRD'S 59-BASKET FREE THROW STREAK

Larry Bird had a habit of making free throws. In 1987, he went on a 59-basket streak from November 9 through December 4. Two years later, he went on a 71-basket streak, though even that one fell short of Calvin Murphy's 78-basket streak in 1981. (All of these records have since been broken.) But hey, it wouldn't be 1987 basketball without mildly dissing Larry Bird, right?

19. BOMBAY SAPPHIRE GIN

Although the bottle makes Bombay Sapphire look centuries old, it was first introduced in 1987. Designed to be a "luxury gin" akin to how Absolut was considered a "luxury vodka," Bombay Sapphire took the existing Bombay line and elevated it, going back to Bombay's famous 1761 recipe ... and adding a dash of new botanical ingredients.

20. ROBOCOP

Paul Verhoeven brought us his dystopian RoboCop on July 17, 1987. Featuring Peter Weller as the title character, the film shows us what happens when a private corporation takes over the Detroit Police Department ... and starts staffing it with cyborgs. What could possibly go wrong?

Fun fact: In the movie, the 1986 model Ford Taurus appears as a futuristic police cruiser—because that design was actually pretty sleek for its time! Various Ford models were also used in the sequels and reboot. "Your move, creep."

21. MACINTOSH SE

The Macintosh SE came out in on March 2, 1987, and it would set you back $2899 with two floppy drives—or $3899 with a 20 megabyte hard drive. Yikes.

Refining the design used in the original 1984 Mac and the Macintosh Plus, the SE ran at a decidedly non-blistering 8 MHz, but it could support up to 4 megabytes of RAM, and it became a common machine in computer labs across the U.S. Because it allowed for an internal hard drive and also had a built-in expansion slot, the SE was more expandable than previous Macs, which helped it hang on for more than two years.

22. CONGRESSIONAL BAN ON INFLIGHT SMOKING

On July 26, 1987, the U.S. Congress mandated a ban on inflight smoking for flights of two hours or less. The ban went into effect in 1988, and was eventually broadened. Interestingly, regulations still mandate the presence of ashtrays in airplane lavatories.

(Incidentally, starting on April 26, 1987, Air Canada started experimenting with its own smoking bans.)

23. AZT

On March 19, 1987, the FDA approved a drug called azidothymidine for treatment and prevention of HIV/AIDS infection. Because the drug's name was such a mouthful, everybody called it "AZT" from the start. It was the first-ever drug approved for treating HIV/AIDS, and its approval came in record time, after only a single 19-week trial on humans.

While AZT was the first effective medication for some cases to fight HIV/AIDS, it was only the first step. Over the coming decades, scientists added medications and refined dosages, arriving at modern treatments. But in 1987, AZT was the only medical hope for patients with HIV/AIDS.

24. "THE DRIVE" (JOHN ELWAY'S BIG WIN)

On January 11, 1987, the Denver Broncos made a legendary comeback known as "The Drive." Playing against the Cleveland Browns, the Broncos were down 20-13 with 5:32 left on the clock. Quarterback John Elway took over, and led his team on a 98-yard drive in just over five minutes. That left the game tied with 0:37 on the clock, and Elway's Broncos proceeded to win the game in overtime with a field goal.

That win allowed the Broncos to advance to Super Bowl XXI, which they lost to New York Giants. But still, The Drive is what football fans look to as a textbook example of a last-minute rally.

25. WINDOWS 2.0

Microsoft released Windows 2.0 on December 9, 1987. It was a transitional operating system, bridging the gap between the (borderline unusable) Windows 1.0 and the very successful Windows 3.0.

The banner features of Windows 2 were overlapping, freely resizable windows (previously, windows had to be "tiled" and couldn't overlap). Aside from the slightly improved user interface, Microsoft Word and Excel both arrived for Windows 2.0, and it also included a slightly updated version of the game Reversi!

Apple sued Microsoft in March 1988 over the graphical user interface in Windows 2.0. Microsoft won. Apple appealed repeatedly, attempting to get the case before the Supreme Court, which declined to hear it. Tensions between Microsoft and Apple remained high until 1997, when Microsoft invested in Apple and the companies' CEOs buried the hatchet.

26. STEPHEN KING'S MISERY

On June 8, 1987, readers got a taste of the horrors of writing. In Stephen King's novel Misery, a famous writer is rescued from a car crash by a super-fan, but finds that his recuperation is not as pleasant as he'd hoped.

King mentions Misery in his 2000 book On Writing, saying that the story came to him while he slept on a 1984 flight from New York to London. When he woke up, he wrote the following fever-dream ramble on a cocktail napkin:

She speaks earnestly but never quite makes eye contact. A big woman and solid all through; she is an absence of hiatus. (Whatever that means; remember, I had just woken up.) “I wasn’t trying to be funny in a mean way when I named my pig Misery, no sir. Please don’t think that. No, I named her in the spirit of fan love, which is the purest love there is. You should be flattered.”

Upon arriving at his hotel in London, King proceeded to write more than a dozen pages of the story, longhand, on what was formerly Rudyard Kipling's desk.

Misery was made into a movie in 1990. Kathy Bates played Annie, the super-fan, and she won an Oscar for Best Actress for that performance.

27. RANDY SHILTS'S AND THE BAND PLAYED ON

Randy Shilts was a journalist for the San Francisco Chronicle. In 1987 he published the bestseller And the Band Played On: Politics, People, and the AIDS Epidemic, exploring the history of the HIV/AIDS crisis in America, with a focus on how leaders reacted to the crisis. Shilts himself died of complications from AIDS in 1994.

And the Band Played On has been in the news lately; the book mentions Gaetan Dugas as "Patient Zero" and describes his international travel and promiscuity as vectors for virus transmission. Shilts wrote, "Whether Gaetan Dugas actually was the person who brought AIDS to North America remains a question of debate and is ultimately unanswerable." In 2016, scientists published a study in the journal Nature proving that Dugas was not the first vector in North America.

And the Band Played On was adapted into a movie in 1993, starring Matthew Modine, Alan Alda, Ian McKellan, Glenne Headly, and a stunning list of other major stars.

28. KENDRICK LAMAR, KESHA, RONDA ROUSEY, EVAN RACHEL WOOD, ZAC EFRON ...

Plenty of actors, musicians, and athletes were born in 1987. Here are just a few:

Ronda Rousey - February 1

Ellen Page - February 21

Kesha - March 1

(Lil') Bow Wow - March 9

Mackenzie Davis - April 1

Kendrick Lamar - June 17

Lionel Messi - June 24

Blake Lively - August 25

Evan Rachel Wood - September 7

Wiz Khalifa - September 8

Tom Felton - September 22

Hilary Duff - September 28

Zac Efron - October 18

29. FINAL FANTASY

The epic Final Fantasy game franchise began on December 18, 1987, when the first version of the game was released for the Nintendo Entertainment System. Designed by Hironobu Sakaguchi, the title's adjective "final" referred to the fact that if the game didn't work out, Sakaguchi was in serious trouble. He told Famitsu:

"The name ‘Final Fantasy’ was a display of my feeling that if this didn’t sell, I was going to quit the games industry and go back to university. I’d have had to repeat a year, so I wouldn’t have had any friends—it really was a ‘final’ situation."

Although this series of events has been disputed, FF was a hit, and it has gone on to spawn endless sequels and spinoffs. (The most recent is Final Fantasy XV, released in late 2016.)

30. thirtysomething

Unless you're at least 35, you probably won't recognize the TV show thirtysomething. It was a drama launched in September 1987, featuring Baby Boomers then in their mid-thirties, struggling with adulthood and parenthood in Philadelphia.

The term "thirty-something" became part of the popular lexicon, and was added to the Oxford English Dictionary in 1993. The term refers broadly to people in their 30s, but more specifically to the generation of baby boomers who hit their 30s during the 1980s.

15 Animal Names That Can Be Used As Verbs

iStock.com/fotojagodka
iStock.com/fotojagodka

People can go fishing, rabbit on incessantly, dog one another, and horse around. But because of their usefulness in completing burdensome work, horse has also been used in (originally naval) slang since the mid-19th century to mean “to work to the point of exhaustion”—or, in the words of the Oxford English Dictionary, “to drive or urge at work unfairly or tyrannically.” But horses aren’t the only animals whose names can be “verbed.” From turtles to tigers, you can drop any one of these 15 creatures into your everyday conversation.

1. Bulldog

No one is entirely sure why bulldogs are called bulldogs, with different theories pointing to everything from their bull-like stature to their bullish faces to the fact that they might once have been bred to bait bulls. Whatever the origin, the bulldog’s strength and its robust, resilient behavior means that you can use its name as a verb meaning “to attack roughly,” or “to wrestle to the ground.”

2. Tiger

A tiger
iStock.com/konmesa

If you tiger, then you walk to and fro, like a tiger pacing in a cage. If you tiger something, then you paint or mark it with contrasting stripes.

3. Spider

Jumping spider
iStock.com/elthar2007

As well as being used simply to mean “to creep” or “to move like a spider,” if you ensnare or entrap something, or else cover it in a cobweb-like pattern, then you spider it.

4. Cat

British shorthair cat with expressive orange eyes
iStock.com/Leesle

Because the cathead is the horizontal beam at the bow of a ship that’s used to raise an anchor, the word cat has a number of nautical uses as a verb, including “to lift an anchor from the water,” “to secure an anchor,” and “to draw an anchor through the water.” But because shooting the cat was 19th century slang for being sick from drinking too much, you can also use cat to mean “to vomit.”

5. Vulture

White-backed vulture
iStock.com/EcoPic

Vultures’ grim feeding habits and their remarkable flying ability have given the word two meanings as a verb in English. Feel free to use it to mean “to eat voraciously” or “to tear at your food,” or else “to descend steadily through the air.”

6. Owl

Owl in flight
iStock.com/WhitcombeRD

Owling (as well as being a short-lived social media craze) was once the name given to the crime of smuggling sheep and wool from England to the continent—a crime so-called because the nefarious “owlers” carried out their crimes at night. That might not be the most useful of words these days of course, so feel free to also use owl to mean “to act wisely, despite not knowing anything.”

7. Shark

It’s easy to presume that the use of shark as a verb to mean “to act like a predator” (which is the same shark as in loanshark, incidentally) derives from the deadly sea creatures. In fact, it might be the opposite: Both meanings of the word shark date back to the late 16th century, but it’s possible that the verb shark is the older of the two. If so, it’s possible that it comes from the earlier word shirk (in the sense of using deceit or trickery to avoid work) or else a northeastern French word, cherquier, which was often used in a phrase that essentially meant “to sponge of others” or “to act as a parasite.” So how did sea-dwelling sharks come to be called sharks? It’s possible the deceitful sharks gave their name to the menacing creatures, or else the two could be completely unrelated—and, thanks to a sea battle off the Yucatan peninsula in 1569, shark could in fact be a Mayan word.

8. Monkey

Chimpanzee looking surprised
iStock.com/photomaru

As well as meaning “to play the fool” or “to behave playfully”—as in “monkeying around”—monkey, like ape, can also be used to mean “to mimic” or “to copy someone’s movements or actions.”

9. Turtle

If a boat “turns turtle,” then it capsizes and flips over, so that it looks like a turtle’s domed shell floating atop the water. Because of that, to turtle something is to turn it upside down.

10. Snail

Burgundy snail
iStock.com/AlexRaths

For obvious reasons, snail has been used to mean “to move slowly” since the late 16th century, but because of the snail’s coiled shell, you can also use snail to mean “to draw or carve a spiral,” or “to roll into a spiral shape.”

11. Porcupine

Porcupine walking
iStock.com/ser-y-star

When your hair stands on end, feel free to say that it porcupined.

12. Canary

Canary birds take their name from the Canary Islands, which, somewhat confusingly, take their name from canis, the Latin word for “dog.” But in the 16th and 17th centuries, the canary was also the name of an energetic dance inspired by a traditional dance performed by the natives of the Canary Islands. And because of that, you can also use the word canary as a verb meaning “to dance in a lively fashion.”

13. Earwig

Earwig
iStock.com/Mr_Fu

Earwigs are so-called because they were once (thankfully erroneously) thought to crawl inside people’s ears as they slept. Through association with someone whispering clandestinely into someone’s ear, in the late 18th century eavesdroppers and people who seeked to secretly influence others became known as earwiggers—and so to earwig is to do precisely that.

14. Pig

Cute pig leaning on railing of his cot
iStock.com/Fotosmurf03

Pig has been used to mean “to give birth” since as far back as the 15th century in English (a fairly uncomplimentary allusion to a pregnant sow delivering a litter of piglets). But slightly less depreciatively, the living habits of pigs mean that it can also be used to mean “to huddle together,” or else “to live or sleep in crowded or dirty conditions.”

15. Dingo

A dingo
iStock.com/JohnCarnemolla

Because of their stereotypically sneaky behavior, to dingo on someone meant “to let down” or “to betray” them in 1930s Australian slang, while to dingo meant simply “to shirk” or “to back out of something at the last minute.”

This list first ran in 2016.

10 Facts About The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn

Public Domain, Wikimedia Commons
Public Domain, Wikimedia Commons

On its surface, Mark Twain's The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn is a straightforward story about a boy and a runaway slave floating down the Mississippi River. But underneath, the book—which was published in the U.S. on February 18, 1885—is a subversive confrontation of slavery and racism. It remains one of the most loved, and most banned, books in American history. 

1. Huckleberry Finn first appears in Tom Sawyer.

The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn is a sequel to Tom Sawyer, Twain’s novel about his childhood in Hannibal, Missouri. Huck is the “juvenile pariah of the village” and “son of the town drunkard,” Pap Finn. He wears cast-off adult clothes and sleeps in doorways and empty barrels. Despite this, the other children “wished they dared to be like him.” Huck also appears in Tom Sawyer, Detective, and Tom Sawyer Abroad, as well as the unfinished Huck Finn and Tom Sawyer Among the Indians.  

2. Huckleberry Finn may be based on Mark Twain's childhood friend.

Twain said Huck is based on Tom Blankenship, a childhood playmate whose father, Woodson Blankenship, was a poor drunkard and the likely model for Pap Finn. “In Huckleberry Finn I have drawn Tom Blankenship exactly as he was,” he wrote in Autobiography. “He was ignorant, unwashed, insufficiently fed; but he had as good a heart as ever any boy had." 

However, Twain may be exaggerating here. In 1885, when the Minneapolis Tribune asked who Huck was based on, Twain admitted it was no single person: “I could not point you out the youngster all in a lump; but still his story is what I call a true story.”

3. It took Twain seven years to write the book.

Huckleberry Finn was written in two short bursts. The first was in 1876, when Twain wrote 400 pages that he told his friend he liked “only tolerably well, as far as I have got, and may possibly pigeonhole or burn” the manuscript. He stopped working on it for several years to write The Prince and the Pauper and Life on the Mississippi.

In 1882, Twain took a steamboat ride on the Mississippi from New Orleans to Minnesota, with a stop in Hannibal. It must have inspired him, because he dove into finishing Huckleberry Finn. In August 1883, he wrote: “I have written eight or nine hundred manuscript pages in such a brief space of time that I mustn’t name the number of days; I shouldn’t believe it myself, and of course couldn’t expect you to.” The book was published in 1884. 

4. Like Huck, Twain changed his view of slavery.

Huck, who grows up in South before the Civil War, not only accepts slavery, but believes that helping Jim run away is a sin. The moral climax of the novel is when Huck debates whether to send Jim’s owner a letter detailing Jim’s whereabouts. Finally, Huck says, "All right, then, I'll go to hell,” and tears the letter up. 

As a child, Twain didn’t question the institution of slavery. Not only was Missouri a slave state, his uncle owned 20 slaves. In Autobiography, Twain wrote, “I vividly remember seeing a dozen black men and women chained to one another, once, and lying in a group on the pavement, awaiting shipment to the Southern slave market. Those were the saddest faces I have ever seen.”

At some point, Twain’s attitudes changed and he married into an abolitionist family. His father-in-law, Jervis Langdon, was a “conductor” on the Underground Railroad and housed Frederick Douglass.

5. Emmeline Grangerford is a parody of a Victorian poetaster.

Huckleberry Finn parodies adventure novels, politics, religion, the Hatfields and the McCoys, and even Hamlet’s soliloquy. But most memorable may be Emmeline Grangerford, the 15-year-old poet. Emmeline is a parody of Julia A. Moore, the “Sweet Singer of Michigan,” who wrote bad poetry about death. So does Emmeline, according to Huck: “Every time a man died, or a woman died, or a child died, she would be on hand with her "tribute" before he was cold. She called them tributes.” Along with bad poetry, Emmeline paints “crayons” of dramatic subjects, such as a girl “crying into a handkerchief” over a dead bird with the caption, "I Shall Never Hear Thy Sweet Chirrup More Alas."

6. A PENIS DRAWING ALMOST RUINED THE BOOK.

Twain, who ran his own printing press, hired 23-year-old E. W. Kemble to illustrate the first edition of Huckleberry Finn. Right as the book went to press, someone—it was never discovered who—added a penis to the illustration of Uncle Silas. The engraving shows Uncle Silas talking to Huck and Aunt Sally while a crude penis bulges from his pants. 

According to Twain’s business manager Charles Webster, 250 books were sent out before the mistake was caught. They were recalled and publication was postponed for a reprint. If the full run had been sent out, Webster said, Twain’s “credit for decency and morality would have been destroyed.” You can view Kemble’s original illustrations here.

7. Many consider Huckleberry Finn the first American novel.

“All modern American literature comes from one book by Mark Twain called Huckleberry Finn,” Ernest Hemingway wrote in Green Hills Of Africa. “There was nothing before. There has been nothing as good since." 

While this statement ignores great works like Moby-Dick and The Scarlet Letter, Huckleberry Finn was notable because it was the first novel to be written in the American vernacular. Huck speaks in dialect, using phrases like “it ain’t no matter” or "it warn’t no time to be sentimentering.” Since most writers of the time were still imitating European literature, writing the way Americans actually talked seemed revolutionary. It was language that was clear, crisp, and vivid, and it changed how Americans wrote. 

8. The end of the book is often considered a cop-out.

A major criticism of Huckleberry Finn is that the book begins to fail when Tom Sawyer enters the novel. Up until that point, Huck and Jim have developed a friendship bound by their mutual plight as runaways. We believe Huck cares about Jim and has learned to see his humanity. But when Tom Sawyer comes into the novel, Huck changes. He becomes passive and doesn’t even seem to care when Jim is captured.

To make matters worse, it turns out that Jim’s owner has already set him free, and that Huck’s abusive dad is dead. Essentially, Huck and Jim have been running away from nothing. Many, including American novelist Jane Smiley, believe that by slapping on a happy ending, Twain was ignoring the complex questions his book raises.

9. The book is frequently banned.

Huckleberry Finn was first banned in Concord, Massachussets in 1885 (“trash and suitable only for the slums”) and continues to be one of the most-challenged books.

The objections are usually over n-word, which occurs over 200 times in the book. Others say that the portrayal of African Americans is stereotypical, racially insensitive, or racist.

In 2011, Stephen Railton, a professor at University of Virginia, published a version of the book that replaced that offensive word with “slave.” Soon after appeared The Hipster Huckleberry Finn, where the word was replaced with “hipster.” The book's description says, “the adventures of Huckleberry Finn are now neither offensive nor uncool.”

10. Twain had some thoughts about the book's censorship.

In 1905, the Brooklyn Public Library removed Huckleberry Finn and Tom Sawyer from the shelves because, as librarian wrote Twain, Huck is “a deceitful boy who said 'sweat' when he should have said 'perspiration.'" Here’s Twain’s reply: 

DEAR SIR:

I am greatly troubled by what you say. I wrote Tom Sawyer and Huck Finn for adults exclusively, and it always distresses me when I find that boys and girls have been allowed access to them. The mind that becomes soiled in youth can never again be washed clean; I know this by my own experience, and to this day I cherish an unappeasable bitterness against the unfaithful guardians of my young life, who not only permitted but compelled me to read an unexpurgated Bible through before I was 15 years old. None can do that and ever draw a clean sweet breath again this side of the grave. Ask that young lady—she will tell you so.

Most honestly do I wish I could say a softening word or two in defence of Huck's character, since you wish it, but really in my opinion it is no better than those of Solomon, David, Satan, and the rest of the sacred brotherhood. 

If there is an unexpurgated Bible in the Children's Department, won't you please help that young woman remove Huck and Tom from that questionable companionship?

Sincerely yours,

S. L. Clemens

SECTIONS

arrow
LIVE SMARTER