Thursday, January 6, 2011

Demonizing Twain - When PC Goes Too Far.

They're at it again. Those self appointed pesky Politically Correct Speech Monitors are working in overdrive to alter some of the best literature ever written. Allan Gribben, a man who professes to be a Professor of Literature at Auburn University, in Alabama, approached Suzanne La Rosa at New South Books last July with the idea of releasing "Huckleberry Finn" and "Tom Sawyer" in a combined edition, sans the word "nigger." Oops! I mean the "N" word. You know what it stands for, you say it to yourself when you read it.

Mark Twain has often been misunderstood, mostly by people in the publishing industry, who are, after all, just businessmen seeking to make money from the words that others labor to write. I can understand that. Those who can't write sell the writings of others. Thus has it ever been.

Editing has always been an honorable task, helping a writer to better hone the message that he is seeking to impart. But when you take the words of a book which has been recognized for well over 160 years as a Classic, and then change those words, you have surpassed the realm of editing and entered the murky world of censorship. And to what end? Mr. Gribben states that he is not attempting to "sanitize Mark Twain. I just had the idea to get us away from obsessing about this one word and just let the stories stand alone." This is bunk.

When reading "Huckleberry Finn" and "Tom Sawyer" in grade school (yes, they actually allowed us to read these books) we were told about the use of the word nigger and what it meant in the context of the times in which it was written. This was in 1965, which for those too young to remember, was a very racially charged year. And the lesson learned in class was that the word was confined to literature. We were made to understand the superiority of Jim, in both his morals and actions, to the white men, I mean the evil "W" men who were chasing him. That lesson will now be lost.

To be fair about it, Mark Twain did state, in his autobiography, that although these books were children's stories, he preferred that they be read by an older audience. That is all very well, and perhaps there is merit there. I only know that I loved these two books from the very first time I read them, never construing the use of the word nigger to be offensive in it's intent.

This is not the first time in which Mark Twain has been misunderstood in regards to race, or religion. When he returned from his trip around the world in the 1880's, he wrote about the Jewish community in Austria. The piece was entitled "Concerning the Jews." It was hailed as "Philo-Semetic." That means that it was favorable to the Jewish people. Within weeks the word had been misunderstood and the more well known phrase "Anti-Semetic" was substituted in it's place. It would be more than a century before the cloud of Anti-Semetism hanging over Mr. Twain's head would start to clear away.

As the Publishing industry continues to salivate over the profits to be made selling Mr. Twain's books intensifies in the wake of the newly released Autobiography, you can expect more of these misrepresentations of the author's work. Imagine how much money Suzanne La Rosa, co-founder of New South Books, and Mr. Gribben, thought they were going to reap from the publication of a bastardized version of two of the greatest American novels ever written.

You can reach New South at 334-834-3556. Let them know how you feel about this politically correct version of the book before it is released in February. And if you see it on the shelves at your local book store, be sure and bypass it in favor of the authors original work, which is readily available in paperback for just a few dollars. And if you'd like, you can borrow the older version free from your local library.

I wonder what book Mr. Gribben will find offensive next?

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