Have you heard/read about this? The fact that a professor of English at Auburn University, Alan Gribben, who (supposedly) is a “passionate academic” of Mark Twain, is publishing a “sanitized” version of Huck Finn. His aim, he claims, is to ensure that this book is welcomed by all schools and their curriculums.
This has just now hit my radar and I've got to tell you I am not happy about it.
I remember having to take turns reading the book aloud in class - a long time ago (high school? middle school?) and being extremely uncomfortable about "the" word. But isn't that part of learning - stretching outside of what is "comfortable?"
Mark Twain is one of my favorite writers - I love his stories and have tried and tried to interest my son in them for years (he has no interest - yet). Mark Twain wrote stories about society as it was then. It wasn't pretty and nice. It wasn't politically correct. And it certainly wasn't morally right. BUT - that is the way it was.
If the book is "sanitized" what lessons do we learn? How is it possible that we think we can re-write the past? And if we allow the distortion, nay – the bastardization - of the words of one of America's greatest writers - where will it end? What's the next target? Roots?
I remember watching Roots, with my family, and being extremely disturbed. Should that be sanitized as well? Too keep people from being "uncomfortable?" When we bury our heads in the sand about what really happened in the past - aren't we doomed to repeat it in one form or another?
Yes, we all want our children to grow up in a peaceful world where everyone is treated with respect – but how do you drive that lesson home without the true telling of just how ugly the past really was? If we make the past "nice" how then do we teach our children right from wrong?
Mark Twain's words were true to his time and were used in that context for telling a story about society in that era. Unfortunately, "that" word was considered acceptable back then. As was the treatment of other human beings.
Even more unfortunately, this word is considered acceptable in certain circles today; as evidenced in some music and videos. So can you explain to me, why Huck Finn needs to be "sanitized" while the music industry continues to allow "that" word to be used prolifically?
I asked my family what they thought – while one is an avid reader (though not of Twain, sadly) the other is not. They were both outraged as well.
I asked the Intellectual Property attorney at work about this – she too believes that the book should be left alone. That it is a “snapshot” of history. When I questioned the legality of it – she explained, that unfortunately; it is legal. Apparently, so many years after the death of the author the work is considered "public domain".
Be that as it may, she went on to say that if this “sanitized” version is published it should be well-noted that it is an AMENDED version of the original work.
Despite the legal right of the publishing company, and this professor, to do so – I call B.S. Big time (and the IP attorney agreed. And for that matter, so did a random litigator who happened to be walking by when he got sucked into this conversation).
Mr. Twain took great pains to capture the spirit and flavor of the era and locations of which he was writing. Mark Twain’s writing actually transports you to the era and location with his prolific use of colloquialism, vernacular and ability to write in “accents.” So when you begin to bastardize his work you lose the context he was trying to convey to the reader.
While Professor Gribben would claim that his goal is a noble one – I disagree completely. As a professor of English – he should be encouraging that Mark Twain’s works are kept whole and accepted as part of an educational curriculum; as a key to open the door for discussion. You cannot re-write history simply because you feel that the harsh reality is too much for today’s society.
As I feel that my ability to express my outrage is so very inadequate, here is a link to an article in the NY Times – that can explain it so much better than I can. http://www.nytimes.com/2011/01/07/books/07huck.html
If you wish to voice your displeasure with this "new" publication, here is the address of the publisher (you can bet they will be hearing from me!).
NewSouth Books, Inc.
P. O. Box 1588
Montgomery, AL 36102-1588
I seriously doubt that it will help - but you never know. I refuse to link to their site because I am so totally outraged.
My thoughts on Professor Gribben? If he were truly a "passionate" academic of Mark Twain then he would never dare to presume that he could publish a "sanitized" version of the book. In fact, I believe that were he a true academic of Twain he would be pushing that this book be on every required reading list - as is.
Because as I said earlier - isn't the point of education is to stretch beyond what is "comfortable?"