I’m certainly not going to sit around staunchly defending the dread N-word. Or even the word “Injun,” which oddly, you are allowed to say without a childish code name.
But sure, I’ll spend 800 words or so roundly ridiculing Alan Gribben, a Mark Twain scholar who according to this article right here, has spearheaded an effort to produce a new version of The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn, scrubbed clean of both of those horrifying words.
“Race matters in these books,” Gribben told Publisher’s Weekly. “It’s a matter of how you express that in the 21st century.”
Now, since I’ve seen the Mark Twain Star Trek episode nearly ten times, I’m something of a Mark Twain scholar myself, so I’m happy to help out one of my confused peers.
You see, I don’t think teaching or studying Huck Finn is a matter of how you express it in the 21st century. I think that Mark Twain was expressing it, in the 19th century, and that’s what you’re teaching or studying.
Sure, I’ll bet there’s a market for a sanitized version of the classic – closed-minded morons. By all means, it’s America, knock yourself out. You could offer other moron-friendly features, like rounded corners so nobody hurts themselves with it, and a big sticker on the cover which reads “Do Not Eat!”
Hooray for you, Gribben. It feels like you’re trying to bait me into a First Amendment debate, but nobody’s trying to suppress the original, so there’s no debate to have. You’re just a producing a new, edited version, like any network airing Beverly Hills Cop, complete with Eddie Murphy going, “Shooooooot.”
In fact, the article makes a big hilarious joke out of this very concept – editing a classic.
Of course, the author uses an actual classic, suggesting that changing out the N-Word in Huck Finn is nothing crazier than airing an edited version of The Godfather. Then it makes a joke about down and dirty melon farmers – an example of how profanity in the original is changed to something innocuous and silly in the edited version.
Oddly, that’s supposed to be the author’s way of pointing out that it’s perfectly cool and funny to screw around with classic works of art. Seems like the opposite to me – what a distracting and asinine way to sanitize the dialogue of an iconic literary mobster.
After illustrating how absurd such sanitizing swap-outs can become, the author then strangely concludes, “The original product is changed for the benefit of those who, for one reason or another, are not mature enough to handle it, but as long as it doesn’t affect the original, is there a problem?”
Seems to me, if your students are not mature enough to handle it, then you don’t assign it, right? I don’t like murder, either, but I’m not going to turn Shakespeare’s assassination scene from Julius Caeser into a pillow fight. Because that would be jarringly stupid, and also a distinctly different story.
That’s the second part that bothers me. “As long as it doesn’t affect the original.”
You’re telling me that swapping out possibly the most historically relevant word in the book with the word “slave” – which doesn’t even mean the same thing – would not affect the book?
I don’t want to have a big debate about theme and the use of race and all that. This guy’s a Twain scholar, and I’m sure he’d love to debate that sort of stuff all night long. I just don’t think any of that’s relevant – Twain wrote the book. The best way to be sure that his novel is intact thematically is to leave every word exactly where it is.
Because you might be a Twain scholar, Gribben, but you’re not Mark Twain. Those who can’t do, teach, as they say – and you didn’t write this book. Mark Twain did. So kindly get the hell out of his way.
Huck Finn was genuinely Jim’s friend, you know. That, coupled with his overtly racist language is a paradox and my guess is, it was on purpose. Huck Finn didn’t go to college in the 90’s, he was a hillbilly from the 19th Century South. Huck Finn doesn’t watch his mouth, and he’s ignorant of the destructive nature of the language he uses. You change those two things, and you changed the character.
It’s noble, I guess, that you want to put the books “into the hands of kids who would not otherwise be allowed to read it due to forces beyond their control (overprotective parents and the school boards they frighten)”
Except overprotective parents shouldn’t run the show, and those kids have long lives ahead of them. They can grow up and move away from their overprotective parents and then read the book, without the PC rewrite. I mean by that argument, we ought to get busy on every single classic out there, scrub ’em up.
You knock yourself out, sure. You can make a pop-up version in which all the characters are bunnies, if you want, and I doubt anyone can stop you. Certainly I’m not ready to take to the streets with a “Bring Back The N-Word” sign – have at it.
I guess I’ll just have to be content with announcing for the record that this is one of the stupidest things I’ve ever heard. I am so pleased to have enough faith in my children that I can allow them to read great works of literature without running it by a censor.
The only problem is, it’s dangerous, trying to sanitize the past in the name of protecting us all from historical and literary reality. The sooner we all forget the past, the sooner we can all get on with repeating it. I don’t think sitting around watching Gribben whitewash this particular fence is the right thing to do.