By now you've all heard of the move by Twain scholar Alan Gribben and NewSouth publishing to release a copy of The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn in a cleaned up, sanitized version that trades the n-word for slave and uses Indian rather then Injun. It's a move that's rightfully getting a lot of criticism. Gribben justifies it by claiming it would make the book more accessible for readers who are uncomfortable with Twain's use of the word.
Twain wrote the book at a time when reconstruction was failing, and freed slaves were facing new repression and discrimination, particularly among the South. He used the common vernacular of the time and created his masterpiece, a story of a river rat and an escaped slave. In the course of the book, Huck comes to see Jim as a fully formed human being. He unlearns everything he has ever been told about slaves. For the first time in American literature, an African-American man, a slave, is seen as a man. For this reason, among many others, the book stands tall as a classic not only in American literature, where it has no equal, but among world literature.
Among his many quotable remarks, Twain said that the difference between the right word and the almost right word was like the difference between the lightning bug and the lightning. He used the n-word over two hundred times in Huckleberry Finn, and he didn't do so because he found it amusing. He used the word to tell his readers in his own time and beyond... that it's an unpleasant word. And that the institutions of racism and discrimination are not only unpleasant, but they're wrong.
The book's been through this before. Others have tried to release sanitized versions. Library boards have debated banning the book altogether. And in trying to release a version that doesn't offend, Gribben has offended nearly everyone. In revising the language, Gribben isn't staying true to the realities of how society was in Twain's time. And in doing so, in trying to censor the word, to hide it, he's doing a great disservice to Twain's legacy, and to the children who should continue to be reminded of the stark realities of history.
Sorry. Don't mean to preach. I've always loved reading Twain, and I get annoyed by this sort of thing.
Several of us were talking about all of this as of late, and came up with some suggestions for new names for classic, and not so classic books.
Shakespeare of course would be the first to face the gauntlet, and so something like Henry V would have to be retitled Henry V, Autocrat of An Outdated Monarchy. By the same token, A Midsummer's Night's Dream would inevitably be called A Delusion Of Nighttime In The Month of July.
Jane Austen would be next. Beth suggested that Pride and Prejudice would go by the ungainly Arrogance And An Assumption Made About Someone Or Something Before Having Adequate Knowledge.
Dickens certainly wouldn't be safe. Great Expectations implies that you're overstepping your bounds, so a better title under the political correctness auspices would have to be Modest Hopes and Anticipations.
Little Women? That could be seen as discriminatory to little people, and the title would have to be changed to Vertically Challenged Females.
The classic Last of the Mohicans would still go by that title, but have the additional subtitle: Thanks To The Genocidal Psychopath Columbus; Let Us Raise Him From The Dead So That We Can Kill Him All Over Again.
Even more recent books might get into trouble. The Hunt For Red October? Well, hunting is a source of annoyance for animal rights groups, so the Hunt would have to be dropped. And not everyone uses the Gregorian Calendar, so let's get rid of October. And while we're at it, Red implies communism. We don't want to offend anyone, do we? Hence the title would be changed to The Urgent Search For The Crimson Tenth Month Of The Gregorian Calendar Year. Don't forget Dan Brown. His Angels and Demons can be retitled Celestial Beings and Naughty Creatures Who May Or May Not Exist Depending On Your Theology before he gets into any more trouble.
If we take this to its logical conclusion, then how about this? Norma's books include An Army Of Angels and The Unicorns' Daughter. Political correctness would force a change of titles to A Gathering Of Military Ranks Of Celestial Beings. And since Unicorns don't exist, it would have to be The Mythological Creatures' Female Offspring.
With my own work, Heaven & Hell... that implies theology (at least I think it's supposed to, I'm not very theological). That's a big no no to the political correctness brigades. Therefore I might as well just change the title right now to A Very Pleasant Place & A Very Dangerous Place That Might Exist And Might Not Depending On Your Religious Beliefs.