(c) 2010 by Tom King
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....