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Tuesday, January 04, 2011

The PC Police Go After Huckleberry

(c) 2010 by Tom King

The PC police finally did it. I knew they eventually would. It's been coming for a long time. Mark Twain, like most authors who tell the truth, was doomed from the beginning. His original sin was telling the truth about African Americans. He portrayed “one of them” as an authentic and admirable human being, while the white folk who surrounded him seemed a motely lot of con men, gossips, swindlers and dimwits. It was a revelation for its time and Huckleberry Finn, particularly, is an important book. Much of what we common folks understand about the black community of the early 1800's South, we learned in high school, not from Harriet Beecher Stowe's melodramatic Uncle Tom characters, but from Mark Twain's gentle and surprisingly wise Jim.

Twain's prose is authentic, gritty and realistic for the time. It's really sad. If he'd laced Tom and Huck with f-bombs, he'd be a literary lion in today's educational world. Instead, Sam Clemens used a word beginning with “N” that, used in virtually any context these days, will not only end your career, but get you sued in the process. An Auburn English Professor has decided to protect us all from the N-word. Twain Scholar Alan Gribben has removed every incidence of the word, replacing it's use mostly with the word “slave”.

I'm not sure I like Slave Jim any better and it certainly doesn't have the kick in the gut that N.... Jim does.

I blame Walt Disney, the Brothers Grimm and J.K. Rowlings. We all grew up listening to and reading stories in which certain words were magic. “Open Sesame” and magic doors stand ajar. “Alakazam” and bad guys disappear in a puff of smoke.

Myself, I don't believe in magic words. Words are tools for good or ill. We use them to communicate ideas. They have no power outside the context in which we use them. If we attach some sort of imaginary “power” to words like the one I'm talking about, we are, in essence, saying there are things that cannot be said or ideas which may not be considered. I, for one, have a real problem with the “F” word and do not ever use it. I might in a discussion find a reason to discuss and even use the word. I might not even bother to read a book laced with that type of profanity. I don't pay much attention if it's used in context – say quoting someone or adding a little authenticity to a very nasty character.

I wouldn't rewrite the book to leave it out, though. You don't fiddle with art like that. Twain used language to exact purpose. A “Twain Scholar” ought to know better. I usually don't hope another author's book fails, but in this case, I'll make an exception.

Oh, well. Mark Twain is no stranger to having his books censored. That's one of the dangers of being truthful. Lots of folks really hate that.

Just one man's opinion....

Tom King

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