Shakespeare tweaked. Why not Twain?

WASHINGTON U.-ST. LOUIS (US) — The publisher of an “n-word”-free version of Mark Twain’s Adventures of Huckleberry Finn is accused of censorship, but a cultural critic argues that tweaking the classics is nothing new.

“We change texts all the time,” says Gerald Early, a professor for English and of African and African-American studies at Washington University in St. Louis. “For instance, we make children’s versions of the Bible, Homer, and Shakespeare.”

A new edition of Huckleberry Finn, scheduled to be published in February by NewSouth Books, substitutes the word “slave” for the “n-word” and “Indian” for “injun” throughout the book.

Changing words in the classic is fine as long as the original version still is easily available for readers, says Early.

“We have abridged versions of many books for all sorts of reasons. Joel Chandler Harris’ Uncle Remus tales have been revised, rewritten, the dialect changed for modern readers.”

Early says that removing the “n-word” from Huckleberry Finn is just that kind of abridgement.

“People do not have to accept it, and they can show their displeasure by simply not buying and reading this abridgment,” he says.

“Many times abridgments are made that are unwise or unwarranted or unjustified. Sometimes not. Let the public decide in this instance, as it does in all others.”

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