Huck and Jim, cosmologists

Of the many conversations between Huck and Jim on their floating raft, one of my favorites is their discussion of how the stars came to be.

Sometimes we’d have that whole river all to ourselves for the longest time. Yonder was the banks and the islands, across the water; and maybe a spark—which was a candle in a cabin window; and sometimes on the water you could see a spark or two—on a raft or a scow, you know; and maybe you could hear a fiddle or a song coming over from one of them crafts. It’s lovely to live on a raft.  We had the sky up there, all speckled with stars, and we used to lay on our backs and look up at them, and discuss about whether they was made or only just happened.  Jim he allowed they was made, but I allowed they happened; I judged it would have took too long to make so many.  Jim said the moon could a laid them; well, that looked kind of reasonable, so I didn’t say nothing against it, because I’ve seen a frog lay most as many, so of course it could be done. We used to watch the stars that fell, too, and see them streak down.  Jim allowed they’d got spoiled and was hove out of the nest.

When I read novels I love to take note of anything the author or the characters might have to say about cosmology, by which I mean, how the world or the universe is structured, and how it all came to be.

Sancho Panza imagined what the earth looked like from a great height, as I blogged about in an older post, and his thoughts are surprisingly modern, for an illiterate peasant of the 17th century. His master, Don Quixote, is far more well-read, but is usually the less realistically minded of the pair.

Here Jim — who is often said to represent the Sancho Panza archetype, while Huck plays the Don Quixote role — opts to think about how the stars might have evolved, which puts him a step ahead of his friend and 19th-century companion.

Huck can’t imagine the time scales that it would take to make the stars, but that is a streak of realistic thinking too, because he can see that the stars would, in fact, take a very long time to form.

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