Editorial: So much Gribben-ess

Rewriting Mark Twain is not good for the digestive system.

The effort by Auburn University Professor Alan Gribben in editing the “Advertures of Huckleberry Finn” and “Tom Sawyer” to change the “n” word to “slave” has prompted all sorts of literary outrage. The so-called bowdlerization of literature to make it conform to today’s semantic standards is not something that folks take lightly.

Nor should it be. To eliminate the context of the times in which fiction was written is nothing more than a thoughtless, and rather selfish, attempt at changing history to someone’s personal tastes. Thoughtless because it fails to take into consideration the lessons we must continue to learn from history, lessons that we already have such a difficult time applying in today’s world. Selfish because it takes an individual’s vision and attempts to impose it on the rest of us.

Do we want swastikas eliminated from depictions of World War II? Do we want to Photoshop out Klansmen’s robes? Do we want to eliminate historic hate speech from all contexts we study?

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Of course not. And thank goodness, the world has weighed in forcefully and promptly about Gribben’s edits. There have been some rather weak offers of support by those who say, better that we edit out offensive words and still offer the substance to youngsters, since any reading is superior to no reading. This is of course post hoc poppycock; these are not accessible “Classics Illustrated” versions, they’re just books with a select number of words changed. Moreover, they substitute with “slave,” a word that is highly different in meaning than the “n” word and is more likely to confuse than to clarify.

Professor Gribben’s revised tomes give us a bellyache. We advise taking some Tums and hoping the symptoms – in this case, Gribben’s editions – disappear.