Tuesday, January 18, 2011

All the Huck-Finn Hub-Bub

Mark Twain's Adventures of Tom Sawyer and Huckleberry Finn: The NewSouth EditionHave you guys been following this? Unless you've fallen off the face of the Earth, I'm sure you've heard all sides of the recent debate over the new edition of Mark Twain's Adventures of Huckleberry Finn.

Adventures of Huckleberry Finn - Original Unabridged Version is a classic by most any measure, however for decades, it's supposedly been disappearing from grade school curricula across the country, relegated to optional reading lists, or banned outright, appearing again and again on lists of the nation's most challenged books. And all because of one offensive word-- "nigger."

Twain scholar Alan Gribben was determined not to let that happen to the classic. With the help of NewSouth Books, Gribben released a version in a single volume with The Adventures of Tom Sawyer, that does away with the "n" word (as well as the "in" word, "Injun") by replacing it with the word "slave."

Needless to say, book lovers have been up in arms, questioning how anyone can edit a classic and in a recent Publisher's Weekly article, Gribben defends the 'other' Huck Finn and says he was quite shocked at the response.

The whole thing makes for an interesting debate. One certainly doesn't want the classic to be ignored and relegated to dusty bookshelves. One also might find it ironic that Twain himself defined a "classic" as "a book which people praise and don't read, but which would Twain rather have? Gribben's intentions mean well--to get the book back into schools and it's important to note that readers still have access to Twain's original. However, I'm a firm believer in the saying, 'Those who cannot learn from history are doomed to repeat it' and we shouldn't go revising books, so that they don't portray the time period correctly. If we removed every harmful or negative facet from a book, what would we have? Certainly, not reality, that's for sure!

I also believe, as much as we want to shield our children and protect them from harmful influences, it's also our responsibility to teach them right from wrong.

So what do you guys think? Is this the right way to get this book back into the hands of young readers?


  1. No, but then C.B. James had a good point on his blog. The book has been captivating readers because it's a good story for 100+ years and has survived other editings. It'll no doubt survive this as well. Because it IS a great story.

  2. You're so right, Jim. Nothing can stop it from being a great story and it will continue to survive the times!

  3. I find myself very torn on this issue. I hate the idea of changing an author's words and what that could lead to - what other words will we find offensive and need to change later? But at the same time, I imagine myself as an African-American teen in a classroom now reading this book as an assignment, and I cringe. It's not that we don't teach and respect our nation's history - the bad along with the good - it's that feels uncomfortable. And not uncomfortable in that good way where we affect change, but in the way that distances us from one another.