Thursday, January 6, 2011

Huck Finn on the Channel 12 News

I guess 2010 as "The Year of Mark Twain" is carrying into 2011. The Autobiography of Mark Twain turned out to be our bestselling book of the holiday season. Tomorrow I'm going to find out that they are adapting Roughing It into a motion picture vehicle for Robert Pattinson. But yesterday the news was that NewSouth Books was releasing an omnibus edition of The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn and The Adventures of Tom Sawyer with the N word replaced by "slave."

When WISN Channel 12 news called me up to talk about it on a local level, my first words out were, "That's a story?" It's public domain, the originals will still be available, books are abridged and changed all the time for school use, and how can I argue about this when I am carrying a copy of Tom Sawyer and the Undead? Here's my little bit, plus the very fair counterpoint from the wonderful poet and Marquette prof Angela Sorby.

Rewriting Classics - Video - WISN Milwaukee

It reminded me of the video stores in Utah that edited R-rated movies to eliminate objectionable material and drew flak. Of course the real issue there was not artistic compromise (honestly, just about any movie that sees a commercial release has been artistically compromised many times over) but that the films are under copyright (so that only the studios or authorized bodies can make the cut, like when you see a highly censored version of a film on an airplane). And think about all the books in translation where these sorts of decisions are made all the time.

So I thought that discussing Huck Finn in some high school English classes (but not all) could be a rewarding experience, including a discussion about the language in context and what the intent was. I think you can have this conversation with either edition of the book. Of course at least one of the copies in our store said it was targeted to ages 9-12. Middle school? Note that both the kid editions we looked at were British in origin, where this is a different relationship to the word.

It's cop out time. In the end, I am a bookseller who may be part of the conversation, but not really part of the process. It is likely that there is a large school body (it's usually California or Texas) that has a call for this.

Not everybody agrees at Boswell agrees with me, and I wouldn't even say that my thoughts are definitive. In discussion, Amie asked me if I'd read Little House on the Prairie. Now I'm afraid to.

No comments: