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Don Marquis

This is Roald Tweet on Rock Island.

Have you ever wondered what Tom Sawyer would be like if Mark Twain had written the book fifty years later, in the 20th century? Wonder no more. Go to your library and pick up a copy of Sons of the Puritans by Don Marquis. You should have no trouble finding Don Marquis books; he's the creator of "Archy" of the famous Archy and Mehitabel stories about a cockroach who used a typewriter in a newspaper office to write editorials.

Like Twain, Don Marquis grew up in a small midwestern town: Twain in Hannibal, Missouri, and Marquis in Walnut, Illinois. Sons of the Puritans is a thinly disguised account of growing up in Walnut, or Hazelton, as it's called in Marquis' book, just as Hannibal becomes Petersburg in Tom Sawyer.

The opening chapter of Sons of the Puritans is almost a clone of Tom Sawyer. Twain's Aunt Polly becomes Aunt Matilda and Tom Sawyer becomes Jack Stevens. As the book opens, she is scolding him for some mischief, just as Aunt Polly did. And sure enough, there is Jack's best friend, Fatty Wilson rather than Huck Finn, and a gang of boys, the Cave Gang who—you guessed it, hang out in a cave at the edge of town. And then a new girl moves to town, not Becky Thatcher but Barbara Stuart, daughter, not of a judge, but of a doctor, and Jack develops a crush. And so it goes.

But wait. This is the 20th century. Modern readers demand a bit more excitement than raiding Sunday School picnics. Jack barely escapes the clutches of an oversexed classmate, only to succumb to the wiles of a visiting female evangelist in town for some tent meetings. The newly seduced Jack takes off for Calvin College and additional sexual adventures, before heading for Greenwich Village and a bohemian life as a newspaper reporter. He meets his first crush, Barbara Stuart, here, and they barely have time to fall in love before Jack heads off for World War I, where he is killed in action.

Don Marquis' book was written in 1939, sixty years ago. Heaven knows what a modern update would be like. I prefer Tom Sawyer in the 1876 version.

Rock Island Lines with Roald Tweet is underwritten by the Scott County Regional Authority, with additional funding from the Illinois Arts Council and Augustana College, Rock Island.

Beginning 1995, historian and folklorist Dr. Roald Tweet spun his stories of the Mississippi Valley to a devoted audience on WVIK. Dr. Tweet published three books as well as numerous literary articles and recorded segments of "Rock Island Lines." His inspiration was that "kidney-shaped limestone island plunked down in the middle of the Mississippi River," a logical site for a storyteller like Dr. Tweet.