Censorship or Greater Accessibility of Twain?

There is a lot of buzz right now about the new NewSouth Books edition of Mark Twain’s The Adventures of Tom Sawyer and Huckleberry Finn being edited to change the “n” word to “slave.”  Let me start by saying that I am not a fan of “censorship.” BUT, I don’t view every editorial change as “censorship.” 

Original editions of Mark Twain’s works can still be purchased and read.  His books in their original form are not being erased from existence.  It is not illegal or difficult to purchase copies of the original editions.  I do think people should keep reading them.  And, libraries and bookstores should continue to shelve them.  Twain’s works are great, but do I want my 8 year old niece to read all of the words of the original Tom Sawyer?  No.  But, do I want her to become familiar with Twain and other great writers?  Yes!

Printing a new edition of a book, using more contemporary language is not “censorship.”  In fact, the covers of the new books say “The NewSouth Edition.”  I know people want to make sure not to lose the great classics of literature, but the printing of new editions, unless they are truly going to burn all of the old ones and prevent people from getting them, is not “censorship” but quite the opposite; new editions of old works actually often helps keep the classics alive in new ways, and broadens the audience.  I am glad there is an edition of The Adventures of Tom Sawyer and Huckleberry Finn that I have the option to buy that introduces children to Mark Twain, without having to introduce them to the “n” word at the same time.  Again, let me be clear, people should and can still read the original edition if they want to do so, with the historically accurate text, but having a new edition without the 219 uses of the n” word, is a great option to have.

I have a feeling I will be writing on this topic in a few more blog entries in coming days.

Marti Williams, Publisher

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About WordStream Publishing

WordStream Publishing is an independent publisher with a focus on both print and digital formats. WordStream Publishing is committed to amplifying the voices of the most creative, inspiring, and progressive authors out there. We publish in a range of topics: memoir, contemplative life, peace and justice, spiritual disciplines, and historical fiction.
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2 Responses to Censorship or Greater Accessibility of Twain?

  1. Meryl Runion says:

    I agree it’s not censorship if the old books are not being banned. And I also think something is lost and gained in the changes. Words evolve their meanings over time, and changing wording can actually preserve the spirit. If that’s what it does. I’m not sure. I know when we read Huck Finn recently those words had quite an impact on us and conveyed the context with power.

    Did you know the word hag once meant holy woman? Boy, did that one get twisted!

  2. Phyllis Becker says:

    Hi, Marti! I have such mixed feelings about this. Would we put a sweater on Venus di Milo because her nudity offends some people? On the other hand, I finally quit trying to teach Huck Finn and most of John Steinbeck because of the language—not that it offended me, but it interfered with the meaning of the story very often. I do believe there are lessons to be learned and taught using the language controversy, but there are other ways to teach this lesson.

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