Saturday, April 2, 2016

My Meeting with Tom Sawyer

“TOM!”

No answer.

“TOM!”

No answer.

“What’s gone with that boy, I wonder?”

What you may not know is that that telling and appropriate phrase…the last sentence above…was not what Twain originally wrote. The original phrase was:

“Where can that boy be, I wonder?”

Page 1 of Tom Sawyer 
in the hand of Mark Twain.
To understand what it means to be a writer is to understand the difference between these two phrases. The first sounding exactly like all of us would expect Tom’s Aunt Polly to sound…the second not quite right, not quite Aunt Polly, and certainly not Mark Twain…which is why, in the manuscript of Tom Sawyer, he crossed it out.

Last evening, Terri and I had the immense good fortune to screen our film “O Brother Man: The Art and Life of Lynd Ward” at Georgetown University Library in Washington, D.C., as part of the current exhibition “Undiscovered Printmakers: Hidden Treasures at Georgetown University Library.”

We were there at the invitation of John Buchtel, who is the Director of the Booth Family Center for Special Collections at the Lauinger Library. Georgetown is the fortunate home of one of the largest collections of the work of the master Lynd Ward. It is a stunning collection, given with gratitude by Lynd’s family. It contains so many things of profound artistic value that it is difficult to describe, but I will cite one example: it is the home of all of the original woodblocks from Lynd’s first graphic novel, Gods’ Man, which means, quite simply, that it is the Holy Grail for lovers of the graphic novel.

Anyone who knows John Buchtel knows that he is an enthusiastic man…filled with the love and joy
Michael Maglaras (with tears in his eyes) 
holding page 85 of the Tom Sawyer manuscript.
of books. At the conclusion of the screening (a great, thoughtful, and attentive audience) I happened to mention casually that I’d decided to open and close our next film (“America Rising: The Arts of the Gilded Age”) with the only known film footage of Mark Twain, taken in 1909 a year before his death.

John calmly replied, “How would you like to see the original manuscript of Tom Sawyer?…you’re standing only a few feet from where it lies.”

Now, if you’re a Twain lover, you will know the feeling that shot through my body, which was a combination of awe, shock, and disbelief. We followed John into a vault, and there, in two red boxes stacked side-by-side, was the complete manuscript of Tom Sawyer. I mean, all the pieces of paper, from the first word to the last, written in Mark Twain’s hand. I mean, the real thing. I mean, the very pieces of paper themselves which had been scratched upon by the Father of the American Novel…do you finally understand what I mean?

I have held pages of the manuscript of Tom Sawyer in my hands. I am now entirely prepared to die.


- Michael Maglaras

John Buchtel and Michael Maglaras with a page from the Tom Sawyer manuscript.