COLUMBIA — When I first learned Mark Twain expert Alan Gribben removed all instances of the "n-word" from "Huckleberry Finn," my reactionary right-wing persona took over, and I denounced this edit of Twain's classic as another example of political correctness run amok. The substitution of "slave" for the offensive term is an overdose of literary nonsense.
Having read most — if not all — of Twain's works to include several perusals of the infamous "Huckleberry Finn," I recognize, as do most, the purpose of his methodology. By using satire to poke fun at the pretentious prejudice of the time, he portrayed the runaway slave, Jim, as the hero — the only character capable of grasping the absurdity of intolerance.
On the other hand, since the book has all but ceased to exist in school curricula, it is relegated to optional reading lists or banned. According to the American Library Association's Office for Intellectual Freedom, "The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn" is among the most challenged books of the 21st century due to racism. Should I not give the literary revisionists their due? Is there merit in correcting gender, religious, racial and general political incorrectness in our literature?
Take for example William Gray's and Zerna Sharp's "Dick and Jane" readers. They were used to teach children to read from the 1930s through the 1970s. Who can forget the opening lines "See Dick. See Dick run. Run Dick run?" Why was Dick first, not only in the book's title but also the first to be recognized in action? I ask you, is that not an egregious example of gender inequality and repression?
Another of the classics ripe for removal of offensive personal incivility is Rudyard Kipling's "Gunga Din," perhaps the most famous of his barracks room ballads. Much like Twain's Jim, the ragged Regimental bhisti (native water boy) Gunga Din, despite his low station in life, was the hero of the poem.
The invective endured by Din was offensive to a fault. "Limpin' lump o' brick dust," "squidgy nosed old idol" and "'eathen" were among the less than endearing and obvious racial epithets hurled at the Harijan (untouchable) but intrepid Hindu water bearer. Would it not be more respectful to substitute the British descriptive of that era "Worthy Oriental Gentleman" for the demeaning rhetoric?
Advocates of increased gun control and opponents of the Second Amendment's right to bear arms could ask the editors to look to Zane Grey as fertile ground. While no longer widely read, editing nonviolent amendments into his romantic but often gun-play-filled novels of the Old West could promote a kinder, gentler experience for the reader.
Two of Grey's prominent gunfighters, Jim Lassiter of "Riders of the Purple Sage" and Buckley Duane of "The Lone Star Ranger," are good candidates for pacification. Instead of dispatching the villains by way of the quicker draw and well-aimed shots from Sam Colt's equalizer, why not edit the scenario to disarm the varmints through dialogue and diplomacy? At the very least, shoot the guns from Tull's and Poggin's hands as did Gene and Roy?
Shakespeare and Disney share some guilt in the fields of political correctness and diversity. "Othello," the "dark Moor," is susceptible to interpretation for racial and/or religious intolerance. And, Snow White's companions, the Seven Dwarfs, should be more correctly described as "vertically challenged diamond miners."
The allure and/or attraction of literary and historical revisions and moral relativism to some is too readily available. If they offend one's sense of morality, diversity, sensitivity or intellectual superiority, simply remove or alter that which offends. The problem is in convincing the public.
Judging from the mostly negative reception to Mr Gribben's editing of "Huckleberry Finn," reality fortunately rules — for now.
J. Karl Miller retired as a colonel in the Marine Corps. He is a Columbia resident and can be reached via e-mail at JKarlUSMC@aol.com.