Real life has precluded me from reading much today (although I plan to begin Sunnyside before bed), but no day is complete without my daily perusal of cnn.com, a habit I gained in college (thanks a lot, Nathan!). There, I came across this interesting tidbit. Apparently, New South Books is going to publish Mark Twain’s The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn, longtime member of many a banned book list, without the “n word” or the word “injun.” Twain scholar Alan Gribben that the move is not one of censorship, but simply an update. The book must change with the times.
I have to confess that I have never actually finished The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn, and it holds little appeal for me as a novel. As a piece of satire, I admire it. I just can’t finish it. But despite my disinterest in the book, I find this move appalling. Twain is a humorist. The book is satire. The use of the word is designed to make you feel uncomfortable. Twain wanted people to be rankled by the word’s use. That’s the point.
Gribben’s argument holds no water. You don’t update books. Period. Sorry, Alan. We haven’t changed Shakespeare. We haven’t changed Dickens’ clearly anti-semitic characters. Books don’t get updated. They stand as testaments to the people, circumstances and times that produced them. And if they make us uncomfortable, that’s good. It means we’re thinking about them.
The cnn article (which, who are we kidding, I originally read on ew.com but thought cnn sounded more legitimate) argues that this puts the book in the hands of children who wouldn’t otherwise be allowed to read the book because it’s “offensive.” And I’m sure that’s true. I’m sure there are parents and school boards across the country who will now let Twain’s awful, racist book into their homes and classrooms because it’s been neutered. But what are they reading, then? An adventure story about a boy and a slave (unless they change that to make Jim into a field hand or a classmate of Huck’s)? Is that what Huck Finn REALLY is? Why even bother reading it? Read Tom Sawyer instead and call it a day.
So I’ll stick by my horrible, racist, 10th grade copy of The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn. And if that makes me unpopular, then “All right, then, I’ll go to hell” (Twain, chapter 31).