Cleaned-up Twain classics spark outrage

Click to follow
The Independent Culture

New versions of Mark Twain classics "Tom Sawyer" and "Huckleberry Finn," cleansed of racial slurs common when they were written, have led many in the US to cry foul.

In the new edition, Huck Finn's travel companion Jim is no longer a "nigger," but instead a "slave." In Tom Sawyer, "Injun Joe" becomes "Indian Joe," among other changes.

The novels were altered by Alan Gribben, a literature professor at Auburn Montgomery University in Alabama, who told National Public Radio that he wanted to save the books, favorites of US children's literature, from disuse because of the controversial language.

"We live in a vastly changed cultural climate, and frankly, I make no apologies for offering this alternative," Gribben, who is white, said of the books originally published at the end of 19th century.

But his revisions have sparked outrage among purists and others who insist the original language is part of what makes the novels a tool for teaching about a difficult part of US history.

"'Adventures of Huckleberry Finn' was written by one of the most prolific and insightful writers and observers of the 19th and 20th century American scene," said Barbara Jones, director of the American Library Association's Office for Intellectual Freedom on

"Mark Twain was not afraid to highlight all of his country's strengths and foibles. He used the N-word deliberately - and not because he was a racist," she said.

And on Thursday, The New York Times slammed the revisions under the headline, "That's not Twain."

"We are horrified, and we think most readers, textual purists or not, will be horrified too," it said in an editorial.

"There is no way to 'clean up' Twain without doing irreparable harm to the truth of his work."