As a writer I don’t shy away from using strong language or imagery. If you’ve listened to Archangel, particularly the story that I put up in between novellas, “Power in the Blood”, then you know that. That’s an extreme example and not one for the kids (or even some adults), but if someone wanted to come along and replace every swear word or violent scene with something less offensive I wouldn’t be thrilled. I do think changes like these, as well intentioned as they might be, do damage to the text. But is that always a bad thing?
These thoughts have come about thanks to the whole Mark Twain/Huck Finn fiasco. For those of you that haven’t heard, a Mark Twain scholar has released a version of the book that replaces the word “nigger” with the word “slave”. This article lays out some of the history of the book and the different versions that have been released. Since it’s out of copyright, it’s open to people doing this type of editing. No one’s rights are being infringed upon, certainly not Twain’s. I don’t know that anyone can clearly say what he would have thought of this, but I would like to think he’d have a sense of humor. You can blame this on “liberal” political correctness, or on over-sensitivity, or on white guilt. Or perhaps it has to do with the editor’s own insecurities.
Whatever the reason, in this particular case, I don’t think this is a bad thing, per se. The government isn’t doing this, the original version still exists, and as stupid as replacing “nigger” with “slave” is (as evidenced by this post’s title), I think getting “up in arms” about it is even more ridiculous. If it means more kids will get to read Twain’s work, I’m okay with it. As it stands right now, fewer kids are getting assigned it, because of that word. For the record, while I think that’s even more stupid than the idea of a new “whitewashed” version, kids should be reading the classics. That’s true even if they (or possibly because they) will embarrass some of us about the true nature of the past, but better to read a slightly mangled version than none at all.
Whichever version kids get exposed to though, I want them reading books like Huck Finn. Of all the things I remember from reading it as a boy the use of that word isn’t one. As an adult I can appreciate why he may have chosen to use it and can dialog with someone about that. Good fiction reveals and means different things to different people.