Saturday, January 8, 2011

McEnroe points out hypocrisy behind some criticism of the bowdlerized Huck Finn.

Strictly for my ... - Colin McEnroe | To Wit

Why it's important kids read at least some Huck. (Image via Zazzle.)

Today's Courant editorial concludes:
"Let's hope this spate of political correctness stops short of, say, Broadway. We'd hate to go to 'Showboat,' which evokes the same period and place, and hear someone sing, 'Elderly Man River.'"
Cute, but wrong.
Here is how 'Show Boat' -- as originally written by Hammerstein and staged in 1927 -- begins (in a verse leading into 'Ol Man River'):
'Niggers all work on the Mississippi
Niggers all work while the white folks play.'
I'm guessing you have never heard that verse sung, even if you have seen 'Show Boat' a few times. Most productions have struggled with what to do with the word, which appears elsewhere throughout the score and script. It's usually cut or changed. Sometimes that whole opening chorus is omitted. 'Show Boat' will play at the Goodspeed Opera House next season. Somehow, I doubt that the first word sung will be 'niggers' or that the Courant will be loudly attacking Michael Price and director Rob Ruggiero and demanding that the word be restored.
I'm not sure I like the idea of anyone tinkering with The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn, but before we get too worked up about it, let's remember we've seen condensed novels in Reader's Digest, versions of the classics for children (everything from Shakespeare to the Bible), and been censoring pop music for radio play for a long, long time. The thing that, I think, keeps this from being as a big a deal as some would make it, is the editions aren't disguising what they are, nor are they supplanting the original in a government effort to censor all versions. Are any of these modifications to the original material ever warranted? You could argue they aren't and I'll probably agree with you.

When my kids read Twain, I intend for them to read the originals. However, if bowdlerized Twain gets some kids into Twain whose parents otherwise wouldn't have let them, then the originals are still out there for them a few years down the line. It's better they have some exposure than none at all.

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