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Wednesday, January 5, 2011

New "Clean" Huck Finn?

As reported in just about every news outlet, an Alabama publisher will be releasing a censored copy of The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn in February. Click here for the full story from Publisher's Weekly.

When I first heard this news I did a double take.  I thought it was a joke.  But no, this is dead serious.  The publisher claims taking out the offensive language will accomplish 2 things.  First, it will keep the book form being banned by schools, thus putting it in more kids' hands.  And second, it will make the book more comprehensible to a 21st century audience by using current terminology and language to highlight the race issues at the heart of the novel

This is wrong for so many reasons.  I don't even know where to begin. I think I will start with the irony that Mark Twain's 100 year delayed autobiography was one of the hottest books of the holiday season, literally selling out everywhere and being pushed into an emergency second printing.  He would be laughing his head off at this situation. Yet, that comforting thought still does not placate me.

Besides the fact that banning any book in America is inexcusable, the argument for changing a book that is considered one of THE classics in all of American Literature in any shape or form is outrageous.  Huck Finn is great because it captures one of the greatest struggles in our country's history using the colloquial language of the time.  It is an unflattering snapshot of real life, real racism, and real problems.  Dealing with our country's history of institutionalized racism should be an uncomfortable experience.  It should not be sanitized; it is best dealt with in its most realistic form.  Also, Twain's novel is still eminently readable to a modern audience; in fact, much more so than many of the classics we are introduced to in school.

Changing the offensive language completely undermines everything Twain was trying to accomplish, and the fact that the publishers have missed this point entirely is even more troubling to me.  What are they doing in the publishing business if they cannot understand this?

By the way, fans of Huck Finn or those who are enraged by this news should read Finn by Jon Clinch.  The link leads to my review.  If the publishers think Huck Finn is bad, they should definitely not read Clinch's fiction take on the life of Huck's dad.  But you should.  Finn is one of the best books I have read and reported on since starting this blog 3+ years ago.

If you are as angry as me, feel free to leave a comment and vent your own personal frustrations.

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