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Publisher defends censoring Twain’s ‘Huckleberry Finn’

Courtesy of MCT

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“Censorship is telling a man he can’t have a steak just because a baby can’t chew it.”

Those words are often attributed to Mark Twain, who penned the classics “The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn” and “The Adventures of Tom Sawyer.” If Twain were alive today, he’d witness his beefy novels being censored by an Alabama-based publishing company.

The language in Twain’s novels, deemed by some to be racist, has put them on banned book lists in the past. Now the words he used more than a century ago are again creating controversy.

Publishing company NewSouth Inc. is scheduled to release the two Twain classics next month in a bound volume with edits that have some educators crying foul. The word “n—–” will be replaced with “slave” and the word “injut” with “Indian.”

Randall Williams, co-founder and editor-in-chief of NewSouth, told The Lantern that people have “misunderstood our intent” and are “accusing us of censorship.” Williams said he respects their opinions but disagrees.

He said the new edits do not diminish the impact of the novels and acknowledged Twain as a “master stylist.”

“The point and power of Twain’s language in the story is still very, very present,” Williams said.

The replacement words may either support or weaken the underlying themes sustained throughout the stories of the changing conflict of racism in America, according to some English educators.

Steven Fink, an associate professor in the Department of English, said the new edits could make the theme “nonsense in some ways.” Fink said the edits could cloud Twain’s representation of racism in American history.

Lynn Taylor, an English teacher at Centennial High School in Columbus, said the new edit “deflates the power of Twain’s work.”

Williams said the idea came from Alan Gribben of Auburn University at Montgomery, who approached NewSouth last summer. Repeated attempts to reach Gribben were unsuccessful.

Fink said Twain might be “sarcastic” and feel that “controversy is good.”

Part of the controversy stems from Twain’s inability to give his opinion. Twain, whose real name is Samuel Clemens, died in 1910. His work is part of the public domain, meaning no one owns the rights to his work.

Twain might have laughed, Taylor said.

Williams took a different approach. He said Twain was a “progressive individual” and that “he was adaptable” and might want “a broad audience.”

The new volume, to be released in mid-February, has “generated incredible national or even international discussion,” Williams said.

But Taylor said the “issue of language is at heart (of the novels). That’s what makes it good to teach.”

For those against removing Twain’s original words and creating a MadLib of sorts with his novels, Williams sees no downside with giving readers options.

“If young readers are introduced to the novel in this edited form and fall in love with Twain’s work,” Williams said, “they will go out and read more of Twain’s writing and maybe they will seek out the original version.”

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