The Corner

Hands Off Huck

I wrote about The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn and the N-word controversy today. When I discovered Mark Twain as a kid, I ripped through a bunch of the novels one summer, these musty-smelling old editions in our basement that my grandfather had gotten as part of a newspaper give-away. They’re books you almost regret reading because you’ll never be able to read them for the first time again. In poking around yesterday, I came across this passage from Huck Finn at random, of a lonely Huck ruminating:

I felt so mournful I most wished I was dead. The stars was shining, and the leaves rustled in the woods ever so mournful; and I heard an owl away off, who-whooing about somebody that was dead, and a whippowill and a dog crying about somebody that was going to die; and the wind was trying to whisper something to me and I couldn’t make out what it was, and so it made the cold shivers run over me.

Anyway, I credit the editor of the NewSouth Books edition for good intentions–he doesn’t want the book’s audience to shrink in the controversy over one hateful word–but I think what he’s done is a mistake at all levels. Some emailers and commenters complain that in a quote from Huck I don’t spell out the N-word. I see their point, but the word has become a semi-obscenity; I don’t spell out “f—” either, but I would never want it removed from works of literature.

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