Scholar Jim

by Todd Walton, January 13, 2011

“There are several kinds of stories, but only one difficult kind — the humorous.” — Mark Twain

I wonder how Mark Twain would feel if he knew his novel Huckleberry Finn has been rewritten in such a way that the meaning of his book is entirely changed, and that such an execrable mutation of his work is about to be afflicted on the next generation of American schoolchildren. I ask because such a crime has just taken place. Yes, it’s true, and I quote from The New York Times:

“Throughout the book [Huckleberry Finn] — 219 times in all — the word nigger is replaced by slave, a substitution that was made by NewSouth Books, a publisher based in Alabama, which plans to release the edition in February.

“Alan Gribben, a professor of English and a Twain scholar at Auburn University, approached the publisher with the idea in July. Mr. Gribben said Tuesday that he had been teaching Mark Twain for decades and always hesitated before reading aloud the common racial epithet, which is used liberally in the book, a reflection of social attitudes in the mid-19th century.

“‘I found myself right out of graduate school at Berkeley not wanting to pronounce that word when I was teaching either Huckleberry Finn or Tom Sawyer,’ he said. ‘And I don’t think I’m alone.’

“Mr. Gribben, who combined Huckleberry Finn with Tom Sawyer in a single volume and also supplied an introduction, said he worried that Huckleberry Finn had fallen off reading lists, and wanted to offer an edition that is not for scholars, but for younger people and general readers.

“‘I’m by no means sanitizing Mark Twain,’ Mr. Gribben said. ‘The sharp social critiques are in there. The humor is intact. I just had the idea to get us away from obsessing about this one word, and just let the stories stand alone.’ (The book also substitutes Indian for injun.)”

Should we be outraged? I suppose the publication and widespread dissemination of degenerate versions of Huckleberry Finn and Tom Sawyer pale next to the unending crimes against humanity perpetrated by military forces around the globe, but still, removing nigger from Huckleberry Finn and replacing it with slave is not only immoral, it is grossly stupid. For one thing, the word slave already appears many times in the original text. Clearly, Twain did not want Jim to be known as Slave Jim. Might not this so-called scholar have changed nigger to negro or some African-sounding word like jomo or kumbaya? Or better yet, why not change nigger to scholar? Scholar Jim. Yes. I like the sound of that.

“All modern American literature comes from one book by Mark Twain called Huckleberry Finn.” — Ernest Hemingway

Ernest who? Wrote some book called For Whom the Bell Tolls. Now there’s a title in need of updating. Nobody uses the word whom anymore. Or the archaic verb toll. The new title should be Who Is That Bell Ringing For? Don’t you think?

But, Todd, the word nigger taken out of the context of a novel set prior to the Civil War is offensive and racist. Never mind that Huckleberry Finn is about racism and the dawning awareness in the mind of an extremely appealing everyman (Huck) that slavery and racism are deeply wrong and need to be abandoned by anyone purporting to be a decent human being. Never mind that the word nigger is to Huckleberry Finn what garlic is to good Jewish, er, Hebrew chicken soup.

“Only one thing is impossible to God: to find any sense in any copyright law on the planet.” — Mark Twain

Indeed. Why is it even legal for this so-called scholar to rewrite Huckleberry Finn? Oh, because the book is in the public domain, meaning Twain and his heirs are long dead, so anyone who wants to fuck with, I mean, amend the original text may do so without fear of legal action against them. Fine. In that case, I want to change the ending of Huckleberry Finn, which has always struck me as weak and something of a copout. I think the novel should end with Huck coming out of the closet and admitting that he and Tom [Sawyer] have a serious thing for each other. You know what I mean by thing, don’t you? And Becky will be exposed as a cover for Tom and Huck’s, you know, hanky panky. And Jim (Jomo) should be like this totally wise prophet kind of guy who helps Huck and Tom emigrate to France where they adopt three children, a Hebrew, an Italian, and an Irishman. Yascha, Luigi, and Sean. Scholars all.

“What are the three great American things? Jazz, the Bill of Rights, and Mark Twain.” — Roy Blount Jr.

What about Moby Dick? Goodness, dick will never do. Dick means, you know, the male thingy. Perhaps the Auburn scholar would like to go through Melville’s massive tome and change all the dicks to, I don’t know, Jason? Moby Jason. No, I’m thinking scholar might be the best choice here, too. Moby Scholar. Yes. Perfect.

“There are three kinds of people — commonplace men, remarkable men, and lunatics.” — Mark Twain

There goes Mark (Samuel) again, using an inappropriate word. He used the word men synonymously with people. What a sexist! What a male chauvinist pig. I’m sending a letter to that Auburn scholar demanding he rewrite all of Twain’s nineteenth century writings to bring them into accord with twenty-first-century political correctness. Just think how women today must feel when they read quotations like that. How could Twain have been so blind and ignorant and arrogant not to know that our language would continue to evolve after his death. Some genius he turned out to be.

“The difference between the right word and the almost right word is the difference between lightning and a lightning bug.” — Mark Twain

The best thing for me about this Auburn University scholar, or the damn idiot, as I’m sure Twain would have called him, blithely ruining Huckleberry Finn and making boatloads of money in the process, is that his deplorable actions have now freed me entirely from my last shreds of regret about dropping out of college in 1969 after two inglorious years of academic nonsense. There have been times in my life when money and gainful employment were hard come by, and in those dire straits it crossed my mind that it might have behooved me to earn a degree or two, but now I am confirmed in my long ago decision to remove myself from the psychic influence of that Auburn scholar and those of his kind, for they are surely bad for the mind and the heart, and most definitely toxic to the soul.

The very ink with which history is written is merely fluid prejudice.” —  Mark Twain

Seriously folks, I do mourn for our culture as I mourn for our society, the lunatics having taken control of just about everything now. But comes the revolution, we will find all the copies of Huckleberry Sawyer wherein nigger has been replaced by slave, and we will burn those copies, but not wastefully. We will ignite those useless pages in woodstoves to heat our homes, the flames providing extra heat for the double good they are doing.

(Todd’s website is UnderTheTableBooks.com .)

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