When it comes to creating controversy, books can't compete with TV or video games-unless that book is The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn. It's been well over 100 years since Mark Twain published his story about a boy who rafts down the Mississippi river with his friend, a slave, and it's still at the center of debate. This time, the controversy is over a new edition of the book set for publication that replaces racist slang with less offensive terminology.
A snapshot of a shameful era in American history through the eyes of young boy, Twain's story has confused critics and stumped educators for years now. It was first banned from libraries in 1885 for being too "crude." A hundred years later, the American Library Association named it one of the most challenged books when it comes to school curriculum. Both hailed for attacking racism and derided for fostering it; both banned in schools and martyred by critics of censorship, Huck Finn may be the single most polarizing book in American history. At its root is the question of whether the book's derogatory, racist language can be used to educate kids about tolerance.
The new revision, which was overseen by a Twain historian, could be considered revisionist history. Should the horrors of history be blotted out or remembered to guard against? And shouldn't great literature function as a torchlight to a dark past we're ashamed of? Is that the one reason books are used to teach? But the other side to the argument is valid as well. Are actually kids mature enough to take away a message of tolerance or will they be distracted by taboo slang? As long as original versions of Huck Finn are still in publication, is a G-Rated edition for schools such a bad thing? Keith Stackweicz of Entertainment Weekly points out one double standard: we're far less outraged when TBS removes the curse words from "The Sopranos." Perhaps some authenticity is lost, but the edited version does keep the completed series alive for new viewers. Maybe if racier books offered kid-friendly revisions, school curriculum could be more diversified and classics could be protected from falling out of favor. The answer isn't simple, but neither is Huck Finn. What do you think?
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