Tuesday, January 04, 2011

Publishing Company Wants To Release Huck Finn Without Racial Epithet

A publisher is planning on releasing a version of Mark Twain's Adventures of Huckleberry Finn without the word "nigger". While I am really not a fan of that word, its use in that particular work is important and used as part of a larger historical context, and as such I disagree with this change on a very deep level.

However, since the work is in public domain, there is nothing I can really do about it. I mean, if the Kindle versions of public domain books can have words changed to mark them as those versions then I suppose in theory they can do this.

But this kind of political correctness bothers me on a lot of levels, not the least of which is it messes with history and plays into efforts to revise the past into something it wasn't. The past was in many ways a brutish, nasty time where people did bad things to each other. I am not idealizing the present by the way. We as a collective still do some brutal things to each other on an institutional level. But somehow trying to put a little bit of a glossy veneer on social norms of the past isn't helping anyone.

Because in trying to distance Huck Finn from that word and that world, the editor who is making that decision is also in many ways trying to eliminate the conversation that goes along with that word. And it is a conversation which Mark Twain wanted people to have.

And while I don't know the entire thought processes of Mark Twain, I think it is safe to assume that he certainly wouldn't want the above changes to be applied to his work.


Megan said...

Did you ever read Lucifer's Hammer? If so do you remember the bit where the guy wraps up all those books and puts them in the septic tank for safekeeping, because he figures nobody will ever check there and they'll be safe until it's safe to go back and get them?

Anyway. I kind of knew, in my mind, that this day was coming, but I was really, really hoping it wouldn't.

Fantastic post, Matt. Especially the second to last paragraph. I agree with you.

Arjan said...

not much to add except for: 'I totally agree'.

Semaj said...

Couldn't agree more. I don't have much to add to it. Besides, the context here is the time period, like you stated in your post.

The use here makes sense than say a certain 80s sitcom puppet character using the word over and over again in outtakes.

MC said...

Megan: I did actually. And I am sure there are going to be a lot of vintage copies of the book available for a while now. I wonder if this publisher is going to try to release that version for Kindle.

Arjan: Thank you.

Semaj: Yes, that Alf video is shocking.

Maven said...

I concur, and I'll add, that if such a thing were possible, I bet Samuel Clemmens is rolling in his grave.