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Huck Finn: Controversy over removing the 'N word' from Mark Twain novel

Huck Finn ('Adventures of Huckleberry Finn') is the fourth most banned book in the US. A controversial new edition would replace 219 references to the 'N-word' with 'slave.' Historical accuracy vs. censorship?

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What would Mark Twain say? The author of "Adventures of Huckleberry Finn" and "Tom Sawyer" is shown here in an undated photo.

The Mark Twain House & Museum/AP/File

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Mark Twain wrote that "the difference between the almost right word and the right word is really a large matter." A new edition of "Adventures of Huckleberry Finn" and "Tom Sawyer" will try to find out if that holds true by replacing the N-word with "slave" in an effort not to offend readers.

Twain scholar Alan Gribben, who is working with NewSouth Books in Alabama to publish a combined volume of the books, said the N-word appears 219 times in "Huck Finn" and four times in "Tom Sawyer." He said the word puts the books in danger of joining the list of literary classics that Twain once humorously defined as those "which people praise and don't read."

"It's such a shame that one word should be a barrier between a marvelous reading experience and a lot of readers," Gribben said.

Yet Twain was particular about his words. His letter in 1888 about the right word and the almost right one was "the difference between the lightning bug and the lightning."

The book isn't scheduled to be published until February, at a mere 7,500 copies, but Gribben has already received a flood of hateful e-mail accusing him of desecrating the novels. He said the e-mails prove the word makes people uncomfortable.

"Not one of them mentions the word. They dance around it," he said.

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