Alan Gribben, a professor of English at Auburn University at Montgomery, is working on an alternative version of Mark Twain’s beloved American classic Adventures of Huckleberry Finn, replacing the N-word with “slave,” “Injun” with Indian, and “half-breed” with half-blood.
The N-word currently appears 219 times in the text.
Gribben says his intention was not to censor or sanitize Huckleberry Finn, nor to render it colorblind. “Race matters in these books,” he told Publisher’s Weekly. “It’s a matter of how you express that in the 21st century.”
What prompted Gribben to suggest the revision to NewSouth Books, the Alabama-based publisher that is releasing this edition, was a series of talks he previously gave on Twain’s Tom Sawyer in libraries across the state of Alabama.
“After a number of talks, I was sought out by local teachers… they said we would love to teach this novel, and Huckleberry Finn, but we feel we can’t do it anymore. In the new classroom, it’s really not acceptable.”
Gribben thus decided to edit an alternative version of the classic for grade school classrooms and “general readers.”
“For a single word to form a barrier, it seems such an unnecessary state of affairs,” Gribbens said.
This alternative edition of Huckleberry Finn has, as expected, erupted into an online debate on literary censorship.
Writes Alexandra Petri at The Washington Post, “This is like changing War and Peace to ‘Peace,’ because war is unpleasant to remember, or removing World War I from All Quiet on the Western Front.“
But according to Keith Staskiewicz at Entertainment Weekly, it’s more like “a TBS-friendly re-edit of The Godfather.”
If this puts the book into the hands of kids who would not otherwise be allowed to read it due to forces beyond their control (overprotective parents and the school boards they frighten), then maybe we shouldn’t be so quick to judge.
An initial print run of 7,500 copies has been planned for the revised version, reports the New York Times. The book is scheduled for release in February, and a digital edition could be available as early as next week.
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