PC edition of Mark Twain's "Huck Finn" causes controversy

10:54 PM, Jan 4, 2011   |    comments
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Mark Twain. (AP File Photo)

By Ashley Yarchin

Hannibal, MO (KSDK) -- Hannibal, Missouri.  One hundred seventeen miles northwest of St. Louis.  As the story goes, many of the popular characters featured in Mark Twain's works were based on people he knew from growing up there.  It's the reason a major change in two of his most noted novels are now the talk of the town.

"Well, did you tell me you liked it because it was for boys?" Jill Stump said to her son, Danny, at a pizza parlor Tuesday night.

Class coursework often becomes a dinner table discussion for the Stump family, especially, though, after learning a book recently read as part of her 12-year-old's curriculum is getting a makeover.

"I hate to see the classics go," Stump said.

That classic was Mark Twain's Adventures of Tom Sawyer. But coming soon, NewSouth Books is republishing it along with Adventures of Huckleberry Finn, making them one volume, as it's believed the author intended. However, in a move that seems quite the opposite, a Twain scholar helped the publishing company replace two often offensive words seen hundreds of times in the texts - the N-word and a derogatory term for Native Americans.

According to NewSouth's website, it's intended to counter "preemptive censorship" and "help the works find new readers."

"I mean, I do understand wanting to be politically correct.," Stump explained. "I'd like to see maybe they be exposed to both."

"To read them and just giggle or laugh or demean someone is wrong but to read them in context and understand what Twain was doing is critical," said Cindy Lovell, the executive director of Hannibal's Mark Twain Museum.

"It wasn't a part of history," added Gladys Coggswell, who is one of the museum's storytellers. "It was a part of Mark Twain. It wasn't Mark Twain. That wasn't the way he talked. He didn't leave them out, so no, I don't think it should go in schools and I definitely don't think it should be here."

"But I don't think his intention was to whitewash or censor. I really think his intention was to make it more comfortable for people," Lovell chimed in. "Let's be honest, human nature, the minute something is banned or challenged, everybody want to get their hands on a read it."

And both she and Stump said that can't hurt when it comes to kids and the classics.

The new edition of The Adventures of Tom Sawyer and Huckleberry Finn comes out in mid-February, but you likely won't find a copy at the museum because, as Lovell explained, it does not preserve the legacy of the original stories' writer.


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