Tuesday, January 4, 2011

New Huckleberry Finn and Tom Sawyer editions to eliminate the "N" word

The Complete Adventures of Huckleberry Finn and Tom Sawyer
Mark Twain scholar Alan Gribben and NewSouth Books plan to release a version of Huckleberry Finn in a single volume with The Adventures of Tom Sawyer. The new edition will eliminate the "n" word (as well as the "Injun") by replacing it with the word "slave." The n word is used 219 times in Huckleberry Finn alone.
In 2010 we read these two books to our 7-year-old. Even though Tom Sawyer primarily uses the word "negro" instead of the more offensive term, I found myself explaining the words to my son and editing myself. I inadvertently bought an abridged version of Huckleberry Finn, which I was glad to see in the end because of the liberal use of the word.

If you read the comments at the end of the Publishers Weekly article linked above, you'll see how many very angry Twain fans are out there. They argue that the publishers are ruining the books by editing them and that Mark Twain used those words intentionally. Changing the words changes his message, etc.

I understand some of what they are saying, but I see three reasons for these new editions:
  • The n word is a highly offensive, derogative term and causes great pain to many people, not just African-Americans.
  • Schools would be able to actually teach these books (without risk of getting banned or offending parents or students).
  • Reading these books to younger children is downright complicated, as I wrote about last year. I cannot imagine reading the whole of Huck Finn, unexpurgated, and saying that word 219 times out loud. I simply would never do it. It's one thing to read it silently, and quite another to read it aloud.
Dr. Gribben explains his decision in this introduction here. What are your thoughts on the matter?

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