The Ethics of “Improving” Mark Twain

From Publishers Weekly:

“Mark Twain …defined a “classic” as “a book which people praise and don’t read.” Rather than see Twain’s most important work succumb to that fate, Twain scholar Alan Gribben and NewSouth Books plan to release a version of Huckleberry Finn, in a single volume with The Adventures of Tom Sawyer, that does away with the “n” word (as well as the “in” word, “Injun”) by replacing it with the word “slave.”

“This is not an effort to render Tom Sawyer and Huckleberry Finn colorblind,” said Gribben, speaking from his office at Auburn University at Montgomery, where he’s spent most of the past 20 years heading the English department. “Race matters in these books. It’s a matter of how you express that in the 21st century.”

No law can stop Gribben and NewSouth from doing this vandalism to Twain’s classics. The two books are firmly ensconced in the realm of the public domain: no longer subject to copyright,  Huckleberry Finn and The Adventures of Tom Sawyer can be published in Pig Latin or with all the characters transformed into Martians. Still, it is wrong, obviously wrong and inexcusably wrong, and the most responsible thing any of us can do in the name of respect for literature, authors, American history, and education is to say so as vociferously as possible in as many ways and media as possible, so no misguided, politically correct fool will ever be tempted to do anything like this again. Continue reading