Could I please get a Huck Finn light?

There is something amazingly beautiful and pure about the classics.  I love to look at them… see them all lined up on my shelf and I quite literally (pun possibly intended) get shivers as I stand before the greats.


The words of great authors.  And the closer to the original date of the books printing… the better.  I like my classics to be original covers, and yes – the original words.

Which brings me to the buzz currently around The Adventures Of Huck Finn.  Here is a quote from an article that was recently in our local paper:

An Associated Press story from Montgomery, Ala., reported a new edition of the two Mark Twain books has replaced the N-word with “slave.” Twain scholar Alan Gribben, who is working with NewSouth Books in Alabama to publish a combined volume of the books, said the N-word appears 219 times in “Huck Finn” and four times in “Tom Sawyer.” He said the word puts the books in danger of joining the list of literary classics that Twain once humorously defined as those “which people praise and don’t read.”


The word “nigger” is in the book 219 times.

When you take away the “N” word we are replacing the language of the book.  Did Mark Twain write these words to be offensive?  No.  Yet the word does hold a power to it that reflects the times and in instances such as this, a replacement word does not hold the same power that the original does.  This is not the word we would use today, but it is part of the history of the south and I for one do not believe that we silence it.  Yes it is an ugly word, but it holds within it the picture of the times and the emotions that come with it.  All of it… every word… is the creation that makes up Huck Finn.


So let me say it this way….. if you have your great great great great grandmother’s apple pie recipe and you decide for giggles that you are going to remove one of the ingredients and replace it with a substitute….. is it still the CLASSIC recipe that was handed down to you?  Or is it now…. your recipe? Close to the original…. but not quite.


What are your thoughts on this change? Any thoughts on other changes made in books?

22 thoughts on “Could I please get a Huck Finn light?

  1. I don’t think you should mess with the classics. That is why they are classics!! They reflect the time period in which they were originally written. I had a similar discussion with a friend when I read To Kill a Mockingbird. She found the use of the n word offensive and felt it should be removed. However, while I don’t like that word, it was a reflection of the time period in which the novel was based and it would be a shame to change the original text, changing the original story. I just don’t like altering books. It’s like banning a book. If you don’t like it then just don’t read it. Don’t take it away so others can’t enjoy!!

  2. I totally agree with your thoughts on this. I wrote on the subject on my blog earlier this week:

    There truly is a danger in changing the text of this book. It’s quite a shame that in some quarters Twain is considered racist because of his use of the “N” word in his books. When, in fact, Twain was a social visionary who was trying to hold a mirror up to the injustices of society in his time.

  3. Great question Sheila. I am in the group of people that says that you should not remove any words from a story because the word is now consider highly offensive. I think we are living in a time were we are in too much of a hurry to not remember context of the times, and to rashly cross out things of history that offends now. I think classics be lessons for us, for our children in the use of words, and how times have changed…ho. Classics can teach how people once lived, what they approved of, what we do not, etc. To take a word out that is now considered offensive changes the story..the text…the meaning…the times. I truly like your apple pie analogy, while it may seem simplistic, it illustrates the topic at hand very well.

  4. I agree….don’t mess with the classics! Any number of books from a previous era could be tampered with in this same way. When would it end? I think it’s important for people to read the classics in the context of the times in which the characters lived.

    This, to me, is just another form of censorship.

  5. If you did not post this, I would never know N word become a big case till they have to change all words. I know it’s not a polite word but changing it into another word is just too extreme.

  6. While I’ll admit that the words are jarring at times, it’s part of when the book was written. You can now choose to read the book or not, but don’t change it.

    Agatha Christie uses the word in a few books and I remember reading “And Then There Were None”, which by the way used to have another title with the N word in it. The first time I read the book I was a little taken aback but had to remember that it reflects the time these books were written.

    On that note you would have to edit out all the images of lawn jockeys or other offensive images or language for that matter used in a lot of the old movies. I’m not sure books should be changed just becuase it’s easiter than changing a film.

  7. My grandparentsand great aunts always used the N word (and another politically incorrect label as well). It wasn’t derogatory or a sign of racism. It just was a reflection of the culture in which they were raised.

    I think the same is true of the classics. Though these words may be interpreted by us as offensive, they capture the culture at the time the book was written. By changing the word, you change history.

  8. I was incensed to read about the word-washing of the book. They are basically changing the history of the book. And Huck Finn is no longer Huck Finn when the language of the book is changed! What a sad thing to happen!

  9. I recently read about this subject on an Norwegian blog and says the same thing here. Classics are classics and when they were written using words like nigger was the language they could use.

  10. If nothing else I suppose this has at least promoted some discussion about what is seen as appropriate language. A word I personally dislike, I never the less think it should have remained.

  11. Anyone who wants that word deleted from Huck Finn is sadly missing the whole point of the book. Mark Twain wasn’t a racist; he was trying to show the harm of racism through a very approachable story everyone could understand. It’s our history – it was wrongheaded but it is our history.

  12. I totally agree! In college I had an argument (in class) with an African American student who found it offensive. I tried to explain to her that it was written to be appropriate to the times not to pretend racism didn’t exist. She and I never ended up agree, but I still think I am right. LOL
    This is like trying to write any difficult scene/book. Sometimes what has to be written is hard to read and digest, but the story would be much less without it. It reminds me of the Professor in MO who wanted Speak banned partially because of the rape scene. That scene was done as tastefully as possible, and without it the narrator would never have been understood.

  13. I find the “n” word as it’s used today very offensive, but really don’t think Mark Twain used it that way. If you take it out of the book, it isn’t his classic book anymore.

  14. I don’t think the book should be changed. Twain meant to write every word and had reasons for doing so. We can’t go back and rewrite every book that now offends our modern sensibilities. Books are meant to provoke thought and discussion and have much to teach us about the context in which they were written.

  15. I love Huck Finn…I always feel tempted to buy it whenever I see a copy in a bookstore, even though I already own it. And I agree about buying old editions of classics! There’s something magical about owning an old book–like owning a piece of history.

    Which is just one reason why editing Twain’s words is an abomination. He was recording his time, and they weren’t saying “slave.” To change Twain’s words not only weakens the language and the message, it also distorts the picture of the time he was recording. It’s like rewriting history.

    I hear a motivation behind the edits is to bring the book back into schools where it’s been banned. I’ve heard it’s also been banned in places because of the scene when Huck decides he won’t betray Jim and declares, “All right then, I’ll go to Hell.” Should we change that too? It’s one of the book’s most powerful and most pivotal moments. But if you start rewriting Twain, where do you stop?

  16. Twain was not a bigot; he wrote the truths of the times and uses these words to illustrate the injustice of them. When Roger Ebert tweeted, “I’d rather be a N… than a slave”, he could have phrased it better, but if they had to rephrase it, why couldn’t they have used something like “colored” or “black” or whatever that actually had at least the same meaning? I’m of mixed ancestry, and my Bebe Boy and I read Huck Finn last year. I answered his questions about the “n” word as well as a bunch of other questions that came up about the time the book is set in. Once we start banning and censoring based on words or thoughts, there can be no end to it. Christians will want a book banned that states that there is no God; atheists will want a book banned that states that God is the creator; homophobes will want a book banned or changed that refers to homosexuality. A book should be taken or left on it’s own merits, and Huck Finn was one of the books that cemented my own love of reading, in spite of the ‘n’ word, which I barely noticed, because I had already been well-taught about those times, being born into the Civil Rights era as the child of two activists. If the word is so bad, then when I hear the young people around me stop using it as a “hello” or as a seeming replacement for the word “friend” (as in “my nigga”), then maybe there will be some weight when the parents of these same young people pop up with their mouths in “o’s” about it being used in a book that was a reflection of the time it was written in.

  17. I get that same “shiver” standing infront of th classics I have collected. They are timeless.

    I personally don’t think that words within books period should be changed, especially in the classics. It changes the entire meaning and purpose of the book. Authors write what they do for very good reasons! They have a purpose! Who are we to change that purpose and meaning, as if we know what the author was thinking at the time? WE DONT”

  18. I know this is so late. I read this post a day or so after commenting on this very thing and wanted to copy my comment. I spent way too much time trying to find it that night. Accidently ran across it tonight. It would be on a site I don’t visit that often. Not that my post was that big a deal, but it expressed my thoughts.

    Here it is:
    I saw that on the news. Dumb is an understatement. Lets sterilize everything out there and take away the meaning and greatness of the work. Those words are in there for a reason. They indicate an attitude, a social status, mindset, what society was in that time and place. It gives parents, teachers, and students an opportunity to teach, discuss, and learn.

    If you did this to TO KILL A MOCKINGBIRD, you would effect the character development and definition, the feel for the society and the individuals in the town, and the meaning of the book itself.

    We don’t read things because we approve of everything on the pages. We read to discover, learn, think, and grow.

Hmmmm... what do you think?

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