A relatively eminent Mark Twain scholar named Alan Gribben (Auburn University) caused a vigorous uproar on the internet today by championing a new version of Twain’s classic novel “The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn” that replaced every instance of the word “nigger” with the word “slave” in the text. Of course, pundits and bloggers expressed a good deal of outrage at what could be considered a cowardly, reverse-PC censorship of a novel designed to indict the sort of close-minded bigotry and hatred suggested by the very word that was to be omitted. Most of these bloggers, however, failed to look back at the history of re-printing classic novels, or else they would have realized that this sort of word substitution and, shall we say, “conceptual re-adjustment” is pretty common practice. Here are a few other examples of politically correct re-prints that went by practically unnoticed in times before the internet controversy machine:
- 1968 – Animal Rights groups successfully remove all mentions of whaling from Moby Dick, replacing the leviathan with an evil, pearl-white Communist submarine.
- 1985 – Fourth re-printing of Pynchon’s Gravity’s Rainbow features no scenes of explicit sex or drug use due to Conservative pressure; book subsequently goes from 750 pages to a more manageable 125.
- 1992 – Neo-Conservative groups successfully lobby to eliminate any record of the writings, essays, and any actual proof of the existence of the Marquis de Sade. (You don’t know who he is, do you? Don’t bother Googling him.)
Were any of these changes protested as vehemently as the new “Huckleberry Finn” printing? Of course not, because they’re fake and patently ridiculous, just as the new “Huckleberry Finn” printing will be. For a succinct, sane take on the issue, please read Elon James‘ argument in his well-written Salon essay.