A Montgomery publisher and the AUM professor who edited out more than 200 uses of a racially derogatory term in a new edition of Mark Twain’s "The Adventures of Tom Sawyer" and "Adventures of Huckleberry Finn" say they’re not surprised that they’re coming under fire in some quarters. . . But Gribben, who has studied and taught Twain for 40 years, changed his mind as he toured the state a few years ago reading to audiences from "Tom Sawyer" as part of the NEA’s Big Read program. He’d routinely replace the n-word -- used 219 times in "Huck Finn" and nine times in "Tom Sawyer," he said -- with the word "slave," which he has done in NewSouth Books’ new combined edition of the two works. In addition, the word "Injun" is replaced with Indian.
Of course, the hapless academic who says Mark Twain could have been a much better writer had he only seeked his much needed advice on how to write novels, explains his actions as serving the greater good. As long as censorship has existed, it has always been done with the best intentions in mind, so this case is no exception:
"We were very aware that we were doing something that was potentially very provocative and controversial," NewSouth publisher Suzanne La Rosa said. "We were very persuaded by Dr. Gribben’s point of view of what he called the amount of ‘preemptive censorship’ going on at the school level. It pained him personally to see ... the way that Twain’s novels were being de-listed from curricula across the nation. It became difficult for teachers to engage in discussion about the text when the kids were so uncomfortable, particularly with the n-word."
What Gribben's publisher is saying here is that since there are so many unprofessional, ignorant teachers out there, it was the publisher's job to cater to them by improving classical works of literature to the point where such ignorant teachers will find it easy to teach them. Of course, censors always believe that everybody else is a lot more impressionable and feeble-minded than they are. Both Gribben and his publisher have read the original novels by Twain and somehow managed to survive this traumatic experience. Still, they think that others cannot be trusted to choose their own ways of interacting with a famous text.
This is why I keep saying that conservative fanaticism isn't much different from progressive fanaticism. A fanatic always knows better, always itches to control everybody else, is always unforgivingly dogmatic. The vector of a fanatic's orthodoxy is not important. Whatever their political convictions might turn out to be, fanatics will end up in the same place: attempting to impose a rigid structure of control on everybody around them.
I have a few suggestions for Gribben, who insists that his edition offers readers "a more palatable reading experience." This hack, who is so concerned with our delicate palates getting too overworked, might now consider the following projects:
1. Rewriting the ending of Anna Karenina: how about if at the end of the novel, Anna decides not to kill herself? Instead, she starts her own business selling blouses in Saratov, sues her husband for custody and alimony and realizes how empowering it is too be a financially independent woman.
2. Redoing Mrs. Dalloway is also long overdue. How about the following denouement: Mrs. Dalloway realizes that her housewifely existence is shallow and unfulfilling. She decides to explore her sexuality freely and openly and moves into a gay community in San Francisco. The novel ends with her organizing political action in favor of gay marriage.
3. Let's be honest, Cervantes really messed up with his Don Quijote. This whole master-servant relationship between Don Quijote and Sancho promotes a demeaning class structure, which should have no place in such a famous book. How about rewriting it to show Sancho Panza organizing a union to fight for the rights of servants everywhere?
Do you have any favorite classics that are in need of improvement? Let's help Professor Gribben find a new project!