Tuesday, January 04, 2011

Huckleberry F***

Alan Gribben should be bloody ashamed of himself. This so-called 'Twain scholar' is basically pissing all over his studies and all over the legacy of Mark Twain himself by getting involved in this bit of bullshit...

I single out Gribben just because his quotes in this Vancouver Sun article are so notably stupid. To wit...

"This is not an effort to render Tom Sawyer and Huckleberry Finn colour-blind," Gribben told Publishers Weekly. "Race matters in these books. It's a matter of how you express that in the 21st century."

So in Gribben's world, expressing something means to slough it away completely or simply to distort it. Vegas is currently laying 4-1 odds on whether or not Gribben's kids still think a stork is heavily involved in childbirth.

"I'm hoping that people will welcome this new option, but I suspect that textual purists will be horrified," Gribben told Publishers Weekly. "Already, one professor told me that he is very disappointed that I was involved in this."

"I know I'm going to get raked over the coals for this," Gribben said. "I'm going to hide under a pile of coats and hope that everything turns out all right."

Look, the controversy over the use of racial stereotypes and language in "Huckleberry Finn" has existed almost since the day it was published. Reading the book myself as a kid, I was pretty taken aback by the number of N-bombs and the walking stereotype that is the Jim character. But still, I worked through these problems simply by acknowledging that the novel was written in 1884. Twain himself was by all accounts quite progressive when it came to equal rights, but he was still a product of his time. If I, as a 12-year-old, could properly understand context, I fail to see how grown adults like Gribben can't.

My point is, teach the controversy. "Huckleberry Finn" was not written in a vacuum. It would be impossible for any teacher to teach this book in a class without a follow-up discussion about race in 1880's America, so why bother sanitizing Twain's work to boot? Why can't "Huckleberry Finn" be treated like teachers and professors treat "The Merchant Of Venice" --- a similarly important piece of literature that also carries its share of prejudiced attitudes? Removing all references to Shylock being Jewish would completely alter both the play and Shakespeare's intentions, so I can't see why NewSouth Books thinks it's okay to commit a similar literary hitjob on Twain's work. Don't make "Huckleberry Finn" as whitewashed as Tom Sawyer's fence.

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