Bowdlerization for thee, and rebowdlerization for me!

A lot of people are upset over the bowdlerization of Huckleberry Finn by a prominent publisher, and a number of prominent bloggers have weighed in with various thoughts.

I tend towards First Amendment fanaticism, and I would be absolutely rabid with rage if it turned out the government had a hand in this. OTOH, I think that purely private censorship (by private individuals and entities) is a First Amendment right. There are numerous versions of the Bible, and even Thomas Jefferson created his own heavily edited version. Anyone with a printing press can run off an expurgated version of anything.

Ann Althouse thinks a Huckleberry Finn edition without the "n" word should be available:

I must say that I think there should be an edition with the offensive words removed. It's not as though the uncensored versions disappear as a result of its existence. If you think seeing those words is crucial to understanding the book, that's fine, but not everyone does, and there's also the opinion that it's detrimental, as Professor Butler explains very well. I think high school and middle school students are inclined to dislike anything you impose on them. They might be more interested in Mark Twain if they knew the teachers were pushing the censored version and an uncensored version is accessible -- like porn -- through the internet. Here, kids, you can get right to it, the instant you want.

I think that's right, although I am one of those people who gets annoyed when I am not allowed to see something that some authority figure does not want me to see. I was that way as a child and I am that way now. 

In an odd coincidence, after a recent book purchase, I inadvertently stumbled onto a very annoying bit of censorship by a publisher most people think of as doing just the opposite. I am fascinated by the way the "old" and "outmoded" McGuffey Readers did a far better job of imparting literacy than whatever techniques are today. Just as I wondered in a comment to Dave's earlier post whether the one-room schoolhouse might do a better job than than the administration-top-heavy educrat edifices of today, I find myself wondering if Detroit -- with its 47% illiteracy rate -- might do better to just try the McGuffey reader. The Sixth Eclectic Reader offers selections intended for sixth graders that would qualify as college-level literature today.

Anyway, I have been collecting some of these old McGuffey Readers for my entertainment. Like many textbooks, they were occasionally revised to fit the times, and some of the stuff that was thought to go a bit too far towards Christian evangelism in the original 1837 Reader was heavily edited in the latter part of the 19th Century. However, I learned that some of the modern fundamentalist Christians who home-school their kids have revived the 1837 version, which they see as the perfect way to not only teach their kids to read and write, but also to instil in them what they see as ideal Christian values.  (Which is their absolute right to do.)

This series is called "The Original McGuffey's," and I assumed that it would be word-for-word the same as the original Reader from 1837, so I bought one.

Imagine my shock when I learned that it, too, had been censored!

From the "PRESENT PUBLISHER'S PREFACE" by Mott Media President George M. Mott:

Slight changes have taken place for the sake of clarification. These changes are as follows: a. some punctuation has been changed to keep it consistent with current usage; b. some words were rewritten with their current spellings; c. Lesson I was divided into two lessons because of its length; d. Lessons II and two paragraphs of XI were omitted because the materials are not appropriate; e. the following words have been changed; religion to Christianity, gay to happy, intercourse to communication, copse to woods, oblige to cause, declivity to slope, distracted to distraught, suspense to anxiety, repaired to run, faculties to mind, poorest to slowest, and philosophy to physics.

Now that just ticked me off, because I bought the book believing it was an accurate and unexpurgated reprint of the original reader. It is not. The above changes are not "slight," but are of a substantial nature (far more so than replacing the n-word with "slave"). For starters, I am dying to know what's in missing chapter II and the missing portion of chapter XI. So I need to find and buy a true original (do I have to Whoopify the term and say "original-original"?), and they are not cheap.

Alas! Gutenberg only seems to have the revised 1879 version online, and not the original.

Again, I think people ought to be able to print what they want and buy what they want, but still, the word "original" ought to mean something other than "the newly Rebowdlerized Edition of the Formerly Bowdlerized Original." 

It makes my head spin.

You'd almost think censorship was relative.

posted by Eric on 01.08.11 at 02:20 PM


I'm upset about this, not so much as some of the more angry, but not about the censorship itself, but for why it was done.
To cave to stupid people and to people who use stupid people to gain power at my expense.

It's like Blazing Saddles. They're both treatises against racism and they're both very heavy-handed and blatant and they're both misunderstood (intentionally?) and attacked. I can't watch it on AMC. About 15 years ago they had censored out the farting scene and that's about it. Now? The fart scene is back but the word of doom is taken out.

I work with this one guy who is a good little lefty.
Before I realized he only thought approved thoughts, I told him Blazing Saddles was one of the top 5 funniest movies of all time.

He borrowed it and returned it the next day saying (paraphrased but accurate), "Sure that word is funny once for shock value, but he kept using it. I didn't watch the whole movie because he kept using it.

He couldn't watch Blazing Saddles. I asked him if he understood the deal, he had no idea that it was about making fun of racists even though it's so heavy-handed.

The worst part? I've been talking about a word but I can't type it and yet I can hear it 50 times a day if I watch black comedians or listen to rap.

And that's screwed up.
Most times when I say something no longer approved (like "oriental") and some leftist tool tells me it's racist now, I reply, "Oh crap, I don't have the latest edition of the Newspeak dictionary, I'll ask O'Brien if he can get me one." If it's an especially annoying leftist, I'll mention how I'm going to meet O'Brien at tomorrow's 2 Minute Hate.

Veeshir   ·  January 8, 2011 4:06 PM

This is as much a defacement of a work of art as putting a blouse on the Venus de Milo; while the original is there unchanged people will never get to see it.

Twain chose the create his work of art the way he wanted it.

If a publisher chooses to make such changes, the should at least have the decency to describe it as:

Huckleberry Finn--a bastardization of an original work by Mark Twain

Woodland Critter   ·  January 8, 2011 9:23 PM

Okay, I'm probably irrationally angry with AMC.
I hate the Ravens, so I kept flipping away from the game to watch the John Wayne movie, "El Dorado". It's stupid but I like watching it.
At one point in the movie they need to knock out a bad guy quietly.
James Caan puts a flower pot on his head, wraps a blanket around himself, pushes his eyes up to "slant" and says, "See you rater" and goes across the courtyard taking short, almost bouncing steps saying, "Ching chow, chou chong chang....", probably about the way a real cowboy would do it if he thought of it, as he gets close the bad guy says, "What you want Chinaman?" or something and then Caan knocks him out.
Today, they showed Caan upending the flowerpot and then immediately cut to punching the bad guy, totally cutting out his disguise.
WTF? Seriously. If they're going to butcher the American classics they're showing, why bother?
I might have to just block them the way I do QVC and TRU as they show stuff I'll never be interested in watching.

Veeshir   ·  January 9, 2011 5:20 PM

I can see the scene now, the mayor of Rockridge turns to Cleavon Little enunciating the words, "Welcome our new person of color."

Let us all now applaud the wit lacking obtuseness of the American twit.

Alan Kellogg   ·  January 10, 2011 10:55 PM

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