Speak Free

"The difference between the almost right word and the right word is really a large matter..." - Mark Twain

Huck Finn is being edited to remove what society now sees as unsavory words. I'm sure there's been plenty of posts about this across the blogosphere in the past few days, but I think it warrants repeating.

I believe Alan Gribben, the Twain expert responsible for this, had good intentions. This book has been banned in the majority of schools and he feels that "...a significant number of school teachers, college instructors, and general readers will welcome the option of an edition of Twain's ... novels that spares the reader from a racial slur that never seems to lose its vitriol." Very few copies will be printed.

I think this leapt out at me because my daughter (just 9) struggled with reading for the first few years (while my son (her twin) began Harry Potter at the beginning of 1st grade). It's not that she couldn't; she just didn't really care for it. When she had to do her nightly reading she chose "younger" books simply so she could get it over with. But, this past summer she found an age-appropriate story about dogs she thought she'd enjoy and read it - slowly, but she read it. The reading bug still hadn't struck her completely, though.

When her teacher assigned a book report in the beginning of the 3rd grade school year, she wanted to read something far below her level, and I refused to let her. We went through the massive stacks of books and I pulled out the Illustrated children's adaptation of Tom Sawyer - by Deirdre S. Laiken. Baby A is not a girly-girl so I thought it might interest her. I never gave a second thought to content - I'd loved this book when I read it. I do know they use Injun Joe, but the "n" word does not appear in this one.

To make it short, she couldn't put it down. She did the book report by herself, and it was amazing. She had to bring "items" from the story to share with class and her excitement over choosing things thrilled me.

The child has not stopped reading since. The classics (adapted for children) are by far her favorites. She got through Dr. Dolittle in record time, only because she couldn't wait to get to Treasure Island. Even better, she has begun drawing pictures and writing her own stories to go along with them. She did a great little series on bullies using the croc mascot from her school.

Obviously the originals are above her level (or were when she started), I wouldn't have kept them from her for reason of censorship. I think Twain did a great job telling a story of boyhood adventures and friendship, while clearly showing his views on race. And what he thought of the racist society in which they (he?) were raised.

Copyright laws become an issue here, for me, too. It's the author's life plus 75 years (in America). I wonder if that should be? Why not make it forever? But then again, I like the idea of an author being able to use old quotes/lyrics in their story. Apparently the heirs of Margaret Mitchell [sort of] found a way around this. They hired someone pen SCARLETT, which basically re-copyrighted the Scarlett/Rhett characters. That's very interesting in itself.*

I'd love to hear Twain's thoughts on this, but I'll probably never get that. ;) So how about you...What was your reaction when you heard about this censored version?

*Thanks to Diana Gabaldon for the discussion input on copyright laws and SCARLETT.


Alex J. Cavanaugh said...

I don't have strong objections, although I think it's a shame to rewrite a book. It was a reflection of the times.

Old Kitty said...

Yay that your daughter has found her love of reading!! May she continue to keep this passion forever!!!

I'm going to repeat a comment I left in another fab blogger's blog (on a different topic!!!). Basically I remember when To Kill a Mockingbird was one of the textbooks we had to read in class (we were 14/15 years old) and so many refused to read it as the lesson progressed and some even walked out. It was because of the use of the "n" word that proliferates the story. For me it was a shame that the book's central themes of justice and fairplay and decency and all good things embodied by Atticus Finch were overlooked. But in retrospect I do understand my classmates' motives. I think they were already confronted by the use of the "n" word in real everyday life and did not want to read it in class too.

I think before you start to change books, you really have to start to change society first.

Take care

Summer Frey said...

I think it's ridiculous, and yet another screaming example of how the general public doesn't understand Huck Finn OR Mark Twain.

I read Huck Finn in 11th grade (though I'd read it before). We just skipped over the word when reading aloud, and never made a big deal of it--and we're in backwater, rural Georgia.

It's kind of like reading Shakespeare, but nobody's come along and censored out all his outrageous stuff.

Linda G. said...

What they're attempting to do to Huckleberry Finn is misguided at best. More like vandalism, in my opinion. It's sad that teachers can't use the language of the book as a jumping off point to discuss how it was reflective of the time during which the book was written. You know, maybe try teaching the kids that books should always be read in context? But perhaps that would be too much trouble.

Buy hooray for your daughter's discovery of the joys of reading! Sometimes all it takes is the right key to open the lock. :)

Elena Solodow said...

Imagine the child reading the new version and being unaware that there was ever a previous version. May sound good, but imagine that they never actually know the injustices that used to take place in that time period. They will never experience it for themselves, and will never find out why it was injustice. Editing history - not a good idea. All of us need to learn from our mistakes.

Lola Sharp said...

What Linda said. Word for word.

I'm against censorship in any/all forms.

Angela Felsted said...

I don't know. I never made it all the way through Huck Fin because I never got used to the dialect. I was young then, though, maybe I'll try reading it again.

Angelina Rain said...

I hate censorship. Some of the best books ever written have been banned from schools do to censorship issues. Example: Flowers in the Attic by VC Andrews. It was a GREAT book. Although, I loved Dark Angel even more.

I have a 10 year old step-daughter who has issues with reading. She always reads far below her level. I gave her plenty of books to read at her own level, but she doesn’t seem to understand the material.

Some of my favorite children’s books are James Patterson’s Maximum Ride series. It’s supposedly for kids 8 and up, but my step-daughter has an issue understanding the content and I think the material in it is more appropriate for kids 12 and up. I love them. I read the first one when I was 21, and I fell in love with it. (I had no idea it was a children’s book when I got it.)

Melissa Gill said...

I'm glad to hear your daughter has found the joy of reading.

I don't know what to think about the Huck Finn issue. As a writer, it's hard to deny the power of words, and if that word is so difficult for the people that it derides then maybe there should be another option.

On the other hand, I think eliminating that word from literature won't change the history that led to it's usage in the first place. It we bury it away, rather than dragging it into the light and discussing it for what it was, who's to say we won't repeat that sad part of history, or find other words to degrade people?

I just don't know.

Anonymous said...

This is all about limiting Free Speech. After all, censorship is everywhere. The gov’t (and their big business cronies) censor free speech, shut down dissent and ban the book “America Deceived II”. Free speech for all, especially Mark Twain.
Last link (before Google Books bans it also]:

M Pax said...

Twain's use of 'that' word is not arbitrary. I don't believe in sugarcoating the past nor in reworking an artist's work.

Melissa said...

I don't really agree with rewriting the books - if only because the thought of anyone doing this to my book at any point is awful! I would hate. So as a personal thing, I'd say no. But I do understand the other side of it to.

Jamie Gibbs (Mithril Wisdom) said...

At first I was annoyed at the censorship, but so long as the original, unedited version remains in publication I have no problems with it. I consider it the same as the republications of Shakespeare or The Bible that change the language to suit a 21st century audience. So long as we still have freedom of choice then I'm okay with it.

Dempsey Sanders said...

To be honest its been such a long time since I read the original. The unedited version I hope always stays in publication though.
Great Post

Doo said...

I don't have a strong opinion about this subject :/ Nice post although. Cool blog too, following :)

Shari said...

I like reading books that are clean, but I think it's wrong to change the book. It is only his work when his words are used in it. I appreciated your thoughts on this topic.

Thanks for stopping by my blog. Come back again!

Christopher said...

If they have to censor it to get in schools I'm OK with it. I don't like it but I can deal with it. What I don't like is that they are going to change the words. Blank them out, don't change them. You can't rewrite one of history's greatest authors.

The Words Crafter said...

I just found out about the editing earlier today. How ridiculous, especially when the word is used in rap music ALL THE TIME. Along with many other words, and not just in rap music. The kids buy it and listen to it all the time. Please, give me a break!

ON a lighter and much happier note, I'm so happy to read about your daughter! Wow! Maybe one day, we'll be buying her books :)

Dawn Simon said...

Yay about your daughter and her new found love of reading! :)

My opinion on the Twain issue: I, too, feel the intentions are good, but I'm bummed about the censorship. It's an ugly word, and racism is an ugly thing. It's sugarcoating history.

Alleged Author said...

No one should ever miss reading a book that comments about the atrocities of racism because of vocabulary.

Twain wrote a strong character in Jim. That character should be celebrated in the original context. He had to fight what everyone believed about him. It's a shame now that no one knew what he was fighting against. It weakens his struggle.

I understand the intentions behind the censorship, however. The word in print and speech hurts people.

Danette said...

As many a fine cartoonist has put it, it seems only a problem when white men use the word- not so much when gangsta rappers use the word. And in this case I think the contextuality of it is ignored completely! But we're quite choosy about what words offend us-- no one makes a fuss at all about the words that are directed towards women at all in public and in writing all the time.

Looks like a nice discussion-- I wish I'd seen it sooner!