Continuing my reading of Mark Twain’s novels, this is one I remember from my childhood. Then I found it an entertaining comical adventure story. Tom, Huck Finn and their black friend Jim travel to St. Louis, Missouri to see a new invention being demonstrated by its quirky inventor, a hot air balloon which can be steered by mechanisms he created. The three sneak aboard the balloon at the end of the day’s demonstration, and are still aboard when the inventor decides to launch his long-planned around-the-world voyage. The inventor is clearly not in his right mind, and grows ever more suspicious and aggressive toward the three unwitting passengers who clamor to be returned home as they sail across America and out over the Atlantic Ocean. Eventually he and Tom Sawyer have a fight, and the inventor falls overboard and perishes, leaving the three on their own. Fortunately, Tom had been watching the inventor’s steering and management of the balloon, and is soon able to take over as pilot. They don’t know where they are, but wake up one morning over a vast desert that Tom thinks is the Sahara in Africa. They spot some lions and land to have a closer look. The lions find this a fine idea for their own breakfast, as depicted in the cover illustration above. Later adventures have them caught in a sandstorm and encountering a caravan of Arabs and the gang of thieves preying on them. Tom saves a baby and returns it to its mother. Later they bring aboard a local guide who speaks English, and who takes them to see the pyramids and the sphinx in Egypt.
When I first read this book, I hadn’t yet read Jules Verne’s Five Weeks In A Balloon, of which this book is something of a parody, and of Verne’s work in general. It’s a fun story if you can overlook the impossible science and the racist depiction of Jim and other characters, though I’ll add Twain makes almost as much fun of Huck’s ignorance and Tom’s slightly better schooling that leads him to believe he knows everything. This story is not nearly as well-developed as Tom Sawyer’s own first book, and well behind Twain’s masterpiece Huckleberry Finn, but I still enjoyed reading it again.