The niggerless Huck Finn

I detest mother Grundy’s. I imagine them to be the kind of people who hover over the television set with a clicker counter in hand, fastidiously tallying the number of swear-words they hear, then hogging the network’s switchboard to complain.

They’re usually motivated by some weird racial, religious, political or cultural interpretation of the way society, and by extension the world as a whole, should function.

I mention all of this because I read yesterday that an academic mother Grundy by the name of Alan Gribben intends to publish a new sanitized edition of the Mark Twain classic The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn, denuded of the word nigger – all 219 instances of its use. He intends replacing the ‘n-word with the weasel word “slave.”

Twain’s novel has been banned numerous times in different parts of the world, since it was first published in 1884. But it has survived all these attempts at curtailing free speech to become one of the greatest novels of all time, and proves conclusively that censorship through banning does not work. So it is perhaps for this reason that our mother Grundy has decided to apply a new form of censorship; one that is perhaps more sinister – altering the language to dilute or even totally destroy the original meaning.

And it is no surprise that since Gribben’s intentions became known, the world who by default sit on the opposite side to these mother Grundy’s, have erupted in protest and anger at this outrage. The message is clear - don’t fuck with the words of Mark Twain.

Imagine if we allow this bullshit to take root. How long before The Catcher in the Rye, To Kill a Mockingbird, Of Mice and Men, The Lord of the Flies or Slaughterhouse Five become the next victims of these language circumcisers?

I think I’m going to treasure my unadulterated copy of Huckleberry Finn, with a little more appreciation than before.

The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn by Mark Twain

The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn by Mark Twain

The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn by Mark Twain

While on my recent road trip, I did manage to find time to finally finish reading The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn, which was recommended to me as a book about critical thinking.

When I first read this book as a school kid many years ago, I thought it was just a great adventure story, like so many other kids at the time. Now, many years later, and with a more mature outlook on the world, several new layers are revealed beneath the tale of a boy (Huck Finn) and a runaway slave (Jim), and their journey down the Mississippi River, on a raft.

When originally released around 1885 in the USA, the book was criticised for its course or crude language and even banned by several libraries. Later it was criticized even further for the use of racial stereotypes. However, the cunning use of these stereotypes by Mark Twain, was meant to highlight one of the many themes of the book; that of racism. It was also meant to be a commentary on slavery, which was entrenched in the period the book was written about.

Perhaps the most important underlying theme of the book explores how Huck is in constant moral conflict with the  prejudicial values that the society of the time inflicted on people. And this is where intense self-evaluation (and critical thinking) enables him to ultimately make the right moral choices.

Notable Quote:

Mornings, before daylight, I slipped into corn fields and borrowed a watermelon, or a mushmelon, or a punkin, or some new corn, or things of that kind. Pap always said it warn’t no harm to borrow things, if you was meaning to pay them back, sometime; but the widow said it warn’t anything but a soft name for stealing, and no decent body would do it. Jim said he reckoned the widow was partly right and pap was partly right; so the best way would be for us to pick out two or three things from the list and say we wouldn’t borrow them any more – then he reckoned it wouldn’t be no harm to borrow the others. So we talked it over all one night, drifting along down the river, trying to make up our minds whether to drop the watermelons, or the cantelopes, or the mushmelons, or what. But towards daylight we got it all settled satisfactory and concluded to drop crabapples and p’simmons. We warn’t feeling just right, before that, but it was all comfortable now. I was glad the way it come out, too, because crabapples ain’t ever good, and the p’simmons wouldn’t be ripe for two or three months yet.

The Devil’s Picnic by Taras Grescoe

The Devil's Picnic by Taras Grescoe

The Devil's Picnic by Taras Grescoe

Sub-titled: A Tour of Everything the Governments of the World Don’t Want You to Try.

To us freedom lovers, over-protective governments and self-appointed keepers of morality, are a nuisance we eventually learn to live with, but more importantly, manage to skirt around (with a great deal of satisfaction, I may add) in order to continue enjoying our freedoms. In, the Devil’s Picnic, Taras Grescoe takes us on a hedonistic journey around the world, to savour some of the foods and other substances, banned and vilified by nanny-state governments.

The journey starts in Oslo, Norway, in search of the forbidden Hjemmebrent or Karsk; a high alcohol-content drink, a type of moonshine. Apparently, in Norway the tax on liquor is based on the alcohol content; the higher the alcohol content, the higher the tax. On an 80-proof bottle of Vodka, the tax could be as much as 86 percent of the total price of the bottle.

Our intrepid author and tour guide, then journeys on to Singapore, smuggling chewing gum, pornographic materials and crackers coated with poppy seeds, into the country. Yes, you guessed it; these items are banned in Singapore. The book provides further delightful  tales of smuggling unpasteurized French cheese into the USA, seeking out and eating Criadillas or bull’s testicles in Madrid, enjoying hard-to-find Cuban Cohiba cigars in San Fransisco, sipping Absinthe (also known as the Green Fairy) in Switzerland, and Coca tea in the Andes.

This book is part travelogue, part guide for food lovers and frankly philosophical throughout.

Notable quote:

Prohibitions, the lines that throughout history have been drawn around bottles and behaviors, powders and plants, are tools of power. The drive toward sexual pleasure; the urge to temporarily escape day-to-day consciousness through intoxication; the questioning of the value of one’s existence, particularly when it seems too painful to endure -all are part of what it means to be human. The way we address these powerful and primary questions of identity defines our individuality. By circumscribing them with taboos and prohibitive laws, society denies its members self-knowledge and allocates itself punitive power over sexuality, consciousness, and self-determination -the most intimate domains of individuality.

It was not for nothing that Islam was built on prohibition against wine and gambling, and just about every major faith on proscribing certain types of sexual pleasure. Nor should it be seen as an accident that in the Judeo-Christian tradition, the archetypal humans were warned to stay away from forbidden fruit: the absurdity of picking a harmless apple (though it may well have been a pear, a fig or a pomegranate) says a lot about how power likes to assert itself through arbitrary prohibitions. It was the serpent, the tempter to knowledge, who invited humans to their first picnic. As Mark Twain put it : “Adam was but human -this explains it all. he did not want the apple for the apple’s sake, he wanted it only because it was forbidden. The mistake was in not forbidding the serpent; then he would have eaten the serpent.”