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Dan Davis <[log in to unmask]>
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Mark Twain Forum <[log in to unmask]>
Thu, 13 Jan 2011 13:29:17 -0500
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Thanks for continuing to explore this. I'm finding that your points and
those of others are pushing me to look critically at how I assemble the
issue in my mind, and I just realized something:

If we accept the notion (and I'm not saying I do) that there is some
objective point or sequence of points at which an editor's work transitions
from the acceptable to the unacceptable (from "edited" to "bowdlerized"
perhaps), what might be the criteria for making that evaluation? 

Certainly an important criterion must be whether (or minimally to what
degree) the original meaning of the text has been preserved after an edit.
But here's where it gets tricky. If a word is being swapped out because of a
cultural acceptability issue, how do we make that determination?
Acceptability has to do with what the word's semantic content is NOW (which
is likely to be demographically sensitive). But to evaluate whether the word
swap changes the text's meaning, are we to examine what the word meant when
the author penned it, or what it means now? It seems to me that this can
leave the editor in an impossible position if preservation of meaning is a
real consideration.

Perhaps even more difficult is the question of meaning specificity. At what
level of meaning are we making the evaluation? Are we talking about broad
thematic meaning? The meaning of units of discourse? Meaning within the
context of character or plot development? The meaning of each specific
instance of usage within the context of the sentence? And what about point
of view? Are we talking about the reason the author made a specific word
selection (the intent)? Maybe we only care about what the story' s
characters mean when they use the word. But what does it mean to the
characters who don't use it but only hear it being used? Does that matter?
Wait - maybe what really matters is just the meaning the word would have for
the author's contemporary readers -- the "target audience."    

Maybe it's all of the above. When translators set out to create new language
editions of a work, they are all essential considerations. Should
same-language edits be subjected to less stringent standards?

Dan Davis

-----Original Message-----
From: Mark Twain Forum [mailto:[log in to unmask]] On Behalf Of Kevin Mac
Sent: Thursday, January 13, 2011 11:54 AM
To: [log in to unmask]
Subject: Huck Finn with training wheels

There's no end to the arguments over word substitutions. Sometimes Twain
obj= ected, but despite his grumblings he allowed it many times when Livy or
Howe= lls suggested it, or when a publisher wanted a change, or after he
tried it = on a lecture audience, or when he thought it would damage sales,
or harm the=  commercial value of his trademark. We might like to think we
are textual pu= rist and consider Twain one too, but he wasn't. He might
have grumbled, but = he cashed every royalty check.

I think the more interesting question is how this edition differs from
previ= ous editions intended for young readers. Neider left out the
=22evasion=22 c= hapters which disrupts the narrative and destroys a major
theme (the return = of Tom Sawyer to the story to remind us how far Huck
Finn has set aside chil= dish things, lost his innocence, left behind his
boyhood itself, rejected ro= manticism in general, etc.). John Wallace
thought the book was racist and di= d much more than substitute words,
effectively erasing the satire from a wor= k whose strength IS its satire.
Other heavily edited editions for kids have = furthered the Disneyfication
of Twain's image.

But Al Gribben's edition does none of that. The notion of tinkering with a
w= ork of art may be disturbing, and =22slave=22 may not be the ideal
substitut= e (is there one?), but this edition may do something no previous
edition has=  done before. It may call the bluff of the self-appointed
critics (parents, = school boards, media pundits, etc.) who have objected to
this book in the pa= st because they took the mere presence of the word
=22nigger=22 as proof the=  book was racist. It calls their bluff. To what
will they object now? And th= ose who objected to the book because they
found the presence of that word hu= rtful, can now read (or teach) the book
without the hurt. The net result may=  be that the book reaches kids who
otherwise would never be able to read it.=  It may not be in the form we'd
like, but they will get the book with all th= e chapters intact and none of
the satire erased. Although every subscriber i= n this Forum is presumeably
a reader, let's remember that for many kids, if = they don't read a work of
great literature in school at some point, they ver= y likely will never seek
it out on their own and read it. Even among us habi= tual readers, how many
great works of literature have you read that you were=  not first exposed to
in school? In fact, I'd venture a guess that kids who = read this edited
version of Huck Finn in school will be more likely to seek = out an unedited
version later on and read it on their own, than kids who nev= er read it in
school. This edited version has not replaced every other editi= on of Huck
Finn, although from the hysteria and chatter, you'd  think it had= =2E Life
will go on.

In the meantime, Huck Finn has been constantly in the media, right on the
he= els of the AUTOBIOGRAPHY, and not in a bad way, but presented as a great
wor= k of literature. Op-eds in the Times, and skits on Colbert Report and
the Da= ily Show are just preaching to the choir, but the coverage has
spread wider = and deeper into the culture than that, and I can't help but
think the book i= s now getting read more than ever before as a result --in
the unedited versi= on at this point. Does anyone know the amazon sales
rankings for all edition= s of HF pre and post flap-doodle? Or likewise,
pre/post sales rankings for T=
wain's complete works on the Kindle?   

Mac Donnell Rare Books
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Austin TX 78730
Member: ABAA, ILAB
You may browse our books at

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