Editing the #@$% out of Mark Twain

Some people are outraged at a new version of Huckleberry Finn with edits for political correctness.  I love books, hate censorship, loathe racism, and really enjoyed The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn by Mark Twain.  I prefer the original text, but have no problem with an edited version.

The uproar is because NewSouth publishing is releasing an edited version of Huck Finn with all uses of the word “nigger” removed, and replaced with the word “slave”.

You could say that it is wrong to mess with a classic, or that it is wrong to sanitize history. Your could point out that Twain had good reason for using the words to show how people talked and felt regarding race.  Editing the word “nigger” takes the power and impact out of his message.   It would be quite erudite of you to use the example of the soliloquy by the horrible, abusive drunken racist Pap Finn ranting about the “the nigger and the govment”;  replacing the word with “slave” softens the impact, and is also  inaccurate, as the free black professor he describes was not a slave at all. So don’t buy or read the new version!

If you want to read the original version, then the answer is simple: don’t read the NewSouth version.  Make sure you and your kids read the un-edited version.  Discuss the themes of the story and the use of language.  NewSouth’s  cover declares their book as both  “EDITED” and “THE NEWSOUTH EDITION”. Pretty easy to find or avoid.  And who cares if someone edits an old book?

Some people will choose the new version for their kids, or to avoid the racist term, or for reading aloud to young readers. NewSouth has found a commercial niche and they are exploiting it. Bully for them.

Changing old books is no big deal.  Mark Twain’s works are in the public domain.  They are fair game for any kind of update or editing.

There are simple language versions of Huck Finn for young children, there are goofy Manga illustrated versions.  There are re-tellings with Huck recast as a girl in the 20th Century, and I bet there is even creepy fan fiction with Huck Finn at Hogwarts making out with Hermione.

That is the great thing about works falling into the public domain.  They can be republished, reworked, improved, recast, and updated.  Consider this: if Twain’s works had not been in the public domain, they would have gathered dust in a publisher’s vault unavailable to our eyes. We may be arguing about the sanctity of Huck Finn BECAUSE the book has been freely available to several generations of readers.

A quick aside: I have been in a similar situation.  Mindposts has re-published an old public domain book and slightly improved it for modern audiences.  The book is Calumet K, which Ayn Rand once described as her favorite book.  It is about a confident, capable man building a grain silo against all odds.  It pre-sages Atlas Shrugged a bit.  I took an old copy of Calumet K, cleaned up the text and formatting, gave it a new cover, enhanced the pictures, and published it specifically formatted for Kindle devices.  I also changed two uses of the word “nigger” to less offensive insults. I wanted to make the book accessible to modern digital audiences, acceptable to schools and families, and to make it as commercial as possible.  The two edits were of ad hominem slurs by a minor character, that had nothing to do with the narrative or theme.  The book is better for it, and is now being read by a new eBook generation.

The lurking threat is that politicians, bureaucrats and busybodies will foist this version on everyone over the original.  The new edition of Huck Finn is indeed censored, but by a private party for private use.  So make sure you and your kids read the version of Huckleberry Finn (or any book for that matter) that is appropriate for you.  Pay attention to what your kids are reading and stand up for great literature.  To this day, book banning and censorship happen all the time, and where a meddler or educrat’s whim can affect your kid.

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