Thursday, January 6, 2011

I gotta weigh in on this Huck Finn fiasco

Not that I have time to be doing this, but come on! I'm not even really weighing in; all I want to do is highlight some of the more insightful bits of the backlash. How anyone can think for a second this is a good idea is a profound mystery to me.
Let's start with this editorial from the Washington Post. I actually agree that she overdoes it with the analogies, but I do think it's clever as well as necessary. Somebody has to be pointing this stuff out. I also read through many of the comments, most of which are intelligent; only one is idiotic enough to say that this new version should exist. The best comment I saw was from someone called gilbertbp:

"Another point: Twain HATED slavery. A major point of the book (despite Twain's preface that anyone trying to find a moral in it would be shot) was that Jim, although an uneducated slave, is noble, even heroic. And Huck, even though he's been taught that blacks are inferior, that it is fitting and proper to hold them as slaves, recognizes Jim's nobility, his heroism, his essential humanity. He also recognizes that the proper white society that is trying to educate him at the beginning of the book, is dishonest and corrupt. And having learned those lessons, at the end of the book, he leaves civilization for "the Territory."

Expunging "the 'n' word" from "Huckleberry Finn" dilutes the power of the book. It's a pity Twain is not alive today (he died 100 years ago this year) to confront his critics, because he'd find just the right way to vivisect these idiots with his pen. They'd wish they'd never HEARD of "Huckleberry Finn," because the whole country would be convulsed with laughter as he subjected these stupendous asses to the ridicule they so richly deserve."

One commenter mentioned that she is a writer and English teacher who uses Huck Finn in class. She included a link to her blog post about it. In my opinion, her analogy is the best of all:

"And honestly, if they do this, where do the revisionists stop in their desire to Disney-fy history? Will The Diary of Anne Frank end with a passage saying that the Germans took all the Jews to a farm upstate somewhere so they could run around and have more space...?"

She ends up over-explaining that comparison (she is a teacher, duh), but it cracked me up anyway.

Neil Gaiman tweeted this today: "It's public domain, so you can make Huck a Klingon if you want, but it's not Mark Twain's book." I don't follow @neilhimself, but I found that tweet because I do follow @realjohngreen:
"Inspired by @, I turned a paragraph of Huckleberry Finn into a tale of Klingon oppression: "

FOLLOW THAT LINK, PEOPLE! It goes to John Green's Reddit post of said paragraph, in which the dreaded "N-word" is replaced with "Klingon." What makes it especially worthwhile is Green's own comments:

"The astonishing thing is that even when you turn it into a tale of Klingon oppression, it is IMMEDIATELY CLEAR to ANYONE who can read that Twain is ridiculing a deformed moral conscience that believes the government has the right to take away people's freedom, and further ridiculing the idea that a drunk belligerent white man is more qualified to vote than a black man.

I mean, my eleven-month-old son craps his pants at least twice a day, and even he has the critical reading capacity to understand what Huck Finn is about."

And on and on and on. Everything I want to say is being said, which I guess should make me hopeful. To those who apparently have said this new edition is good because it will allow teachers to expose students to a great novel, I say, "IT'S NOT THE NOVEL! THAT'S NOT HOW THE NOVEL IS WRITTEN!" (I should point out that words like "Injun" and "half-breed" have also been supposedly expunged from this edition). My hope is that the backlash will be so overwhelming that teachers will resurrect the original version and expose their students to THAT.

I hate to post a Mark Twain quote from the internet when I don't know the source offhand; I fear I may be spreading mis-information, since I know from direct experience that people have attributed quotations to Mark Twain that there's no way he ever said. But I believe he was capable of this one:

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

I'm out.

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