Faith Can Move Mountains... But Dynamite Works Better

Friday, January 14, 2011

Abandon All Hope, Ye Who Censor Here

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.

So, to get back to me being me (preaching is really out of character), in addition to the above suggestions, what other books would face the gauntlet of political correctness and come out with changes?

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.


  1. wahahahhhahahahahahahaaa !

    this either makes one cry or laugh or both at the same time.

    cheers, parsnip

  2. Oh, William, this is one of your best to date!

    I think any writer will object to having the classics "sanitized." Though there are offensive words in some of these books, we need to preserve them as they are. They're not only great literature, they're representative of the times in which they were set and created.

    How long before we can't speak at all because someone might be offended by even the most innocent comment?

    Oh, and I do like the alternative titles you suggested for my books. But I doubt they'd fit on the covers....

  3. I still like my first one that I made up on FB...The Time Between Sunset And Dark...LOL

    I know, I know...and I believe I had one for Norma's Final Hours...Concluding Time...but, as you said, that could have been Armageddan...

    I agree with Norma that this was a very good blog and one of importance. Good job, William!

  4. Reminds me of a good old fashioned book burning. They clean up Mark Twain, but allow books on pedophilia on Amazon. Grateful that reason finally prevailed on that one.

  5. "1984" happening here for real. What did the writer call it? Word Speak? Deleting words from the English language.

  6. I heard my favorite book "Gone with the Wind" gets some bad rap now a-days.
    Your post is great.
    Change your blog name though-the devil thing is very offensive. LOL

  7. Thank you this is what I say to Enid Blyton's critiques too.
    Dont you just love it when people get overly concerned with the trivial things in life?
    its a book read it and then go and find the cure for cancer

  8. I just don't think anyone should mess with Mark Twain's writing...period.

  9. Orwell called it Newspeak, as I recall.

  10. I loved the To Put to Sleep a Mocking Bird and then the other War and Peace that reads: now with more peace. Great stuff. Thanks for this post.

  11. How could I have forgotten? The Count of Monte Cristo's been on my mind in the last few months (revenge is a big theme in my work in progress), and the soundtrack from the most recent version has been played a lot during the writing process.

    Well, The Count would be out. Seperation of the classes, noblemen and all that... that would just irritate the socialists. So it would have to be retitled The Outdated Imperialist Person Of Title Of Monte Cristo.

    And come to think of it, Norma's Chasing The Wind could end up being retitled In Pursuit Of A Meteorological Phenomenon.

  12. If I'm to change the blog title, obviously it would have to be Talking About The Naughty Man Who May Or May Not Exist Depending On Your Theology And May On Occasion Look Like Jennifer Love Hewitt.

  13. Peter Pan is another one that's been scrubbed clean. I have a lot of Shakespeare references in my novel and have my main character point out the's something that is blatant...but really, can we not read original works and strive to understand them in their historical context? I think we (as a pc society) can handle that...or maybe not.


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