Yes… I’m aware that Banned Books Week officially ended Saturday, but it was a weekend of birthday celebrations. My grandson’s then … mine! So I got a little sidetracked. Without further ado…
We are wrapping up Banned Books Week by visiting with some old friends of mine, Huck Finn and Tom Sawyer.
Yes, those notorious boys who got up to all kinds of adventures along the banks of the Mississippi River. The Adventures of Tom Sawyer was first published in 1876, followed by The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn in 1884-85. In fact, the character of Huck Finn was first introduced in The Adventures of Tom Sawyer.
Of course the notoriety of these two characters did not stop at the pages of the books they were contained in. They have long been a source of literary and social criticism. The controversy began a few decades after the novels were originally published and rages on to this day. The following link takes you to letters by Twain, published in The New York Times, but written thirty years prior, following a request from the director of a children’s library to have the novels removed.
I also ran across a rather interesting and concise slide show presentation that sums up the reasons why these two books have been challenged in the past and why they should NOT be banned.
The controversy surrounding two of Twain’s most famous novels has been such that last year a Twain scholar decided to release an edited version of the novels. The new versions mostly omitted the racial epithets commonly used in that time. To literary purists this was the beginning of a whole new aspect of the Tom Sawyer/Huck Finn controversy.
A critic in the Books section of The New York Times referenced a complaint lodged by Huck himself in The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn when Huck bemoaned the fact that “they” were trying to “sivilize” him. The link to that article can he found here.
At the time the new editions were about to be released we wrote a post regarding the suitability of altering classic literature- for any reason. In part, I said:
While I applaud Gribben’s desire to make these Twain classics more acceptable and therefore more accessible to schoolchildren, I wonder at the danger inherent in diluting such an important literary work.
The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn has the dubious distinction of being one of the top five most banned books in schools. I remember reading both Tom Sawyer and Huck Finnin elementary school as a child. Of course, since I am a native Virginian and over fifty, that’s not exactly a shocking disclosure. What may surprise some of you however, was that reading Twain’s tales of boyhood adventure on the Mississippi was one of the things that started to open my eyes to the awful inequities and cruelty that are part of life- not always in the big things, but in the small and cruel cuts that are sometimes overlooked.
The entire post can be found here: Twain Redone
When I re-read these books for Banned Books Week, I did so in audio version. I did this not for expediency sake or because I prefer books that way ( I don’t), but because I didn’t want to gloss over that word, even subconsciously Even though that particular word grates on my nerves like nails on a chalkboard, I wanted to make sure it filtered in fully, along with the whole experience of reading the trials and discovery of these boys. Is that particular word offensive? Of course. Was the use of that word and all the actions and attitudes described in those books part of our history and society. Yes, they were. Glossing them over, making them more socially correct or acceptable dilutes not only the power of that experience, but in a way gives those who were the inspiration for those characters and situation a kind of historical amnesty.
Books, such as the ones Twain wrote were as much about social commentary as the works of Chaucer or Shakespeare. They all should be read and talked about. But then I feel that way about all books.
Coming up- It’s Great Books Week and this years focus is Charles Dickens.We’ll be talking about it all this week. Stay tuned…