A Conversation for Samuel Clemens aka Mark Twain

Huckleberry Finn and censorship

Post 1

bludragon, aka the Dragon Queen of Damogran

The interesting thing about Huckleberry Finn is that it has been called the quintessential American novel, the greatest book in American Literature, AND also one of the ones consistantly banned by schools and libraries [shame on them!]. He's right up there with Kurt Vonnegut getting banned and burned, for some reason. [oh, dear, I feel an article on banned books coming on]

I would note that [as a librarian and teacher] I can say that most of my colleagues DO consider Mark Twain a writer of 'classics'. In the schools I am acquainted with, Huck IS taught.

It has the advantage of being readable on many levels [good sign of a literary classic] and it is a relatively 'easy' read. This [the easy reading part] is of primary importance in today's schools.

And I agree that Clemens/Twain would not have given one fig for whether or not it was taught. And I can imagine he would have something pretty funny to say about the book-burnings...

Huckleberry Finn and censorship

Post 2

Blatherskite the Mugwump - Bandwidth Bandit

The "none of his works are considered classics" line was a sarcastic form of a joke. Because, as the footnote reveals, he defined a classic as "a book which people praise but don't read." Clearly, none of Clemens' works fit this description, as he is still widely read.

But I've never encountered a school that taught any works of his except for the story that got him started "The Celebrated Jumping Frog of Calaveras County." Downright shameful it is, too, because his other works provide such a clear picture (his embellishments, after all, are rather obvious) of the period of history during which he lived. It's the only reliable account, too, because that horrible romantic period in literature was taking place, with James Fennimore Cooper putting musket balls on a nail's head at 100 yards, and other such foolishness.

Huckleberry Finn and censorship

Post 3


I too have encountered some of Mr. Clemen's work in a school setting. It 'twas me 10th grade literary class were we spent a week on the discussion of the use of the "n" word and another week on actually studying the book. Gobs of fun that first week. Just GOBS!

Huckleberry Finn and censorship

Post 4


Heh...I have to read Hucklberry Finn for English....and I'm beginning to be a bit irritated. It is actually the FIRST book all year I actually enjoy reading. All the other so-called 'Classics'we had to read were insanely boring and mind-numbing.
Mark Twain once said, "The simple absence of Jane Austen's books from a library would make a very good library out of one with no books at all." I've liked Twain ever since I heard that....


Post 5

bludragon, aka the Dragon Queen of Damogran

Sorta a Catch-22 for the term 'Classic' then, isn't it? At least in Mr. Clemens' case... smiley - winkeye

The term always frustrated me as well, because things become classics by having broad appeal [supposedly]. And then once they get labeled Classic, they are taught in school and beaten to death [the books and the students together] until no one can stand them, which seems to make the older generation more sure that the book is 'valuable', and more bent upon making the younger generation read them, even though the books themselves are no longer interesting to the people who are being forced to read them.

And occasionally, if a student is exposed to a book they actually enjoy, the process of 'studying' it assures that the student will end up hating it too. This happened to me with Shakespeare's 'As you like it'. Luckily, I recovered, and went on to lead a normal life that included the occasional Shakespearian play. [but I still hate 'As you like it']

Education, how wonderful...

Oh, and the 'Jumping Frog of Calaveras County' is also taught in the English classes I am familiar with. So do not despair; children in the US are not going to sleep hungering for Mark Twain. Unfortunately, they might have been much better off if teachers had given up teaching Mark Twain, and left him on the banned book list. Probably more people would have read and enjoyed him that way. And Sam Clemens would have most likely prefered it that way. smiley - smiley

Anyway, I enjoyed your Guide entry, and am glad someone filled the glaring gap where Mark Twain was concerned.


PS. And I can't imagine that you find James Fennimore Cooper's vision of the 'noble savage' at all romanticized. I am sure he was writing from accurate documentary evidence. [this is also sarcasm] smiley - winkeye

Huckleberry Finn and censorship

Post 6

Lupa Mirabilis, Serious Inquisitor

When I was in school we were taught Huck Finn as well as some of his short stories. In fact, no mention was even made of the "banned" issue.

On Cooper

Post 7

Blatherskite the Mugwump - Bandwidth Bandit

If you ever want a good laugh at James Fenimore Cooper's expense (and doesn't everybody who's ever been forced to read him?) read Twain's review of him titled "Fenimore Cooper's Literary Offenses." It's one of the first short works by him that I ever read, and I still like to go back and read it over again.

What's worse than Book Banning

Post 8


A huge Mark Twain fan I am, and a card-carrying member of the ACLU - so book banning and burning really gets my feathers in a ruffle. But that's not necessarily the worst possible thing.

If some schools remove the classics from their shelves due to a couple Damns (Catcher in the Rye) or N-words (Huck Finn) -- or if they remove them due to the presence of witchcraft (Wizard of Oz) -- it is certainly a loss to the students who don't get to read them. However there is worse.

I was having a discussion once with a friend about Victor Hugo's classic Notre Dame de Paris....turns out she had absoultely no idea that the classic movie completely changed the ending. She was horrified to learn the true ending.

Another example: Fiddler on the Roof is a good musical, but by dropping the stories of the later daughters an entirely different message is sent. The musical suggests that each step away from tradition brings greater disaster. But in Sholom Aleichem's short stories, the last daughter marries a man she doesn't love in order to provide for her father, Tevye -- What Tevye wanted with his first daughter. But Tevye realizes she isn't happy, and can't be happy either. This wonderful incomplete circle is completely lost in the musical.

Another: In George Bernard Shaw's Pygmalian Eliza Doolittle ends up marrying -- not Henry Higgins -- but the suitor, I've forgotten his name, who sings "On the street where you live." There is absolutely no indication in the musical that Henry Higgins might be more interested in Col. Pickering, though this is hinted at by GBS.

I'd hate to see what today's Hollywood Bowdlerizers did to Huckleberry Finn or Tom Sawyer. The outright murder of classics, either in abridged novels or in movies, is in my opinion worse than banning the books. I'd rather have one generation ban the book, to be rediscovered by a future generation, than the first generation to mutilate the book beyond recognition -- in so doing we risk losing the originals forever.

What's worse than Book Banning

Post 9

bludragon, aka the Dragon Queen of Damogran

Aha! *She says, rolling up her sleeves, sharpening her quill pen, and pulling out a fresh sheet of creamy white vellum.*

An intellectual exercise on censorship & 'creative editing'!!

*rubs hands together, looks thoughtfully up, awaits muses to inspire thought*

Yes, the spectre of George Orwell's 1984 looms, when offensive bits are removed from literary [or other] works, for the purpose of making them less objectionable. How do you know if a work has been edited? Sometimes it says in on the title page of the book. But when works are published in a repressive society, this may not be the case. At least when you have the book and the movie you CAN compare them.

I have always vigorously boycotted the publishing of literary classics 'abridged for younger readers'. If the book is too difficult or too adult for the 'younger' reader then wait until the reader is old enought to understand the book!!!! Give children's books to children, and adult books to those old enough to understand them. Classic comics also offended me for the same reason. The argument that this is the only way to interest children in the 'classics' is false. The thing that makes books 'classic' is that they have wide appeal. Much is lost when they are watered down. AND today there are many wonderful classics of literature on all reading levels. Six year olds do not have to read Shakespeare, they can read Robin Hood, or Peter Pan until they get old enough for Shakespeare.

But, there are several dimension to changing the endings of things, rewriting works for different mediums. Today, there is film literature as well as written literature. The experiences are parallel, but different. Sometimes the screenplay authors DO rewrite to make things less objectionable. And I do NOT condone this.

But sometimes authors change things because the medium is different. Pygmalion as originally written is certainly more controversial than 'My Fair Lady', but it does not pretend to BE Pygmalion. It is actually a different work entirely. A musical comedy is more lighthearted than a social satire. There is nothing deceptive about this. If West Side Story had been changed so that Tony and Maria walked off into the sunset it would have been a different play [and not as good] but still 'based' on Romeo and Juliet.

And also, as a small child I saw many of the Walt Disney versions of famous folktales [Snow White, Cinderella, etc.]. I thought Mr. Disney had written the 'correct' story. When I read these tales I found that there were many, many versions. This is the nature of folklore. Many different ways of telling the same story. Shakespeare did the same thing. Many of his stories are based on old tales that he adapted to his purposes.

Some movies are even written [and released] with more than one ending, or in different versions in different parts of the world. If this is done to supress ideas it is frightening, but if it is done in the spirit of 'artistic license' it is another issue. The scarey part is wondering how to tell the difference...

I guess the 'climate of censorship' in the country of origin is one clue.

One last thought: I never assume that the screenplay has followed the book. And to assume that you know the book because you 'saw the movie' is always a mistake. The two mediums translate differently, even when following the same plot. Sometimes the original author writes the screenplay [and sometimes not]. And sometimes the author is long dead before the movie is made.

I always want to read the book after seeing the movie, and see which one I like best. The most interesting thing is that sometimes I end up liking both, even when they ARE different.

Certainly one of the more subtle aspects of censorship...makes me want to go reread 1984, or Farenheit 451...


What's worse than Book Banning

Post 10

Lupa Mirabilis, Serious Inquisitor

I would say that since My Fair Lady has the same characters and plot and a good deal of the same dialogue as Pygmalion, it does indeed pretend to be Pygmalion. If the setting and characters were different, then I would agree with you. But also, what really upsets me is that there was no reason for the filmmakers to change the ending; in fact, if you ask me, her standing up to Higgins and then going back to him made absolutely no sense at all, and the original ending from the play would have worked perfectly well if not much better.

What's worse than Book Banning

Post 11

bludragon, aka the Dragon Queen of Damogran

Hi there!
I think you have a good point, [especially the part about the dialog being the same] but I dunno if this falls in the same catagory as the banning of books, or the editing of a literary work to remove 'objectionable' material.

I agree that sometimes the line gets fuzzy. If Higgins really DID prefer the Colonel [as Gavroche pointed out] to Eliza in the Shaw version, maybe the authors of the musical WERE trying to remove something objectionable from the play. Or maybe just lighten it up a little. After all, they were writing a musical comedy BASED on the Pygmalion story. [If they were able to lift dialog from the Shaw play, I would guess it was because the copyright had expired--I dont really know about that]. But if they were pretending it was Pygmalion, why didn't they call it 'A musical version of George B. Shaw's Pygmalion'?

But really, this is more of an artistic judgement than a censorship issue. Pygmalion was a drama: satire. My Fair Lady was written as a MUSICAL COMEDY. For that matter, Pygmalion was based on a greek myth, and Shaw certainly changed IT quite a bit. smiley - winkeye And the original myth DOES have the king marry the statue he created. More like the musical version than the Shaw version.

Part of my point is that stories were meant to 'evolve'. We have intellectual property and copyright laws because in today's society there is money to be made from the ownership of the rights to these works. But, really, stories will be retold in many forms. There is no 'right version' of a story. Many times the credits of movies state 'based on' or 'adapated from' a novel, or short story. Sometimes when the author of the book writes a screenplay themself they change things because some things can be expressed differently in film than in print. And sometimes an author gives up his right to control the content of the film and he regrets it later. In some cases, they have made strong statements voicing their objections.

But, I dont think that the authors of "My Fair Lady" should be 'forced' to follow "Pygmalion". This is a kind of control as well. You may have an opinion as to whether or not a movie is better or worse when the plot is changed from the book it is based on, but I think the filmmaker has the right to make such changes.

We are fortunate in todays world that we have live theater, printed books, and filmed recording of creative work. I still feel that 'reading the book' is by it's very nature different that 'seeing the movie'.

Some filmmakers take great pains to be faithful to the original book when creating it on film. And they advertise that fact. Others exercise 'artistic license' in making an adaptation, which in their mind improves the film version. Enjoy the differences, and be aware that there might be some. But I don't think that it is censorship, unless there is a concious effort to suppress the original intent of the author because it is objectionable.

To reprint a version of Huck Finn with the 'n' word cut out, or without references to Jim as an escaped slave is censorship because it changes what Mark Twain was trying to say. But to make a movie with a different name about a boy riding a raft down the Mississippi may only just be poor filmmaking.

What do either of you think?


PS. I actually know of a school librarian who did things like cutting out all of the swimsuit pictures in the Sports Illustrated [infamous] 'swimsuit edition'. Now THAT'S what I call CENSORSHIP!!!
smiley - winkeye

What's worse than Book Banning

Post 12

Blatherskite the Mugwump - Bandwidth Bandit

Personally, I have no problem with abridged versions or artistic licensing in films, as long as the original is preserved. Some people don't have the patience to read Shakespeare in his original language (I believe he originated in Gibber smiley - winkeye ), so a new edition may be a way to get exposure to him without the flowery speech. But I can support this only so long as the original work survives as well. If they want to print an edition of Huck Finn just for schools that eliminates the offensive word, I can support that, but again, only so long as it is labeled as 'abridged' or 'edited' on the cover, and the original version is still available. In this way, people can exercise their own censorship, by reading what they choose to read.

What's worse than Book Banning

Post 13


"To reprint a version of Huck Finn with the 'n' word cut out, or without references to Jim as an escaped slave is censorship because it changes what Mark Twain was trying to say. But to make a movie with a different name about a boy riding a raft down the Mississippi may only just be poor filmmaking.'

I can understand the argument, but My Fair Lady falls somewhere in the middle. It may be masquerading under a new title, but book titles change too. There are many books that get renamed, especially when being published in a different country. (Notre Dame de Paris, for example, became The Hunchback of Notre Dame. Paris doesn't translate as Hunchback) My Fair Lady used the same characters as GBS's Pygmalian, and put them through the same situations.

With Fiddler on the Roof...the original is in Yiddish, accessible to few, and while there are English translations, most people will only ever see the musical, and think that that is what Sholom Aleichem was attempting to say.

I am, as you might guess, a large fan of Les Miserables. I have no problem with The Fugitive. It's only loosely based, and very few people even know Les Miserables was used as a starting point. Most of the movies have made good attempts at conveying at least a portion of the novel. (Conveying it all would be impossible in a 2-3 hour movie) The musical, while it does make some obvious changes (for example making the Thenardiers comic instead of pure evil), still does a very admirable job. But the text abridgements I've seen are horrible. And there is even one edition (Penguin Classics) that many people believe is unabridged. It contains about 1000 of the 1200 pages. The translator in the Notes mentions that he placed chapters that were unnecessary at the end of the book as appendixes, and removed entirely some passages he also felt were superfluous. Most people don't read the notes. I looked, and some of my favorite passages were gone.

Finally...I know I can ramble...someone brought up Fahrenheit 451. I have a later edition with a note from Ray Bradbury. Something truly ironic and horrifying happened with that novel. Over the years since its publication editors at the Publishing house, unbeknownst to Bradbury or anybody else, quietly removed some of the harsh language from the novel from edition to edition. A college student wrote a letter to Bradbury telling him about their discovery comparing two editions. You can probably imagaine Bradbury's response. The note to the edition I have guarantees that every "damn" in the original was back in place. (I wish I could have heard Bradbury's first conversation with the publishers after reading that letter) If they had the chutzpah to do it with Fahrenheit 451, they'll do it with anything.

What's worse than Book Banning

Post 14

Lupa Mirabilis, Serious Inquisitor

Well, I wasn't trying to say that this issue falls in the same category as book banning, I was just replying to your message with my own thoughts. When it comes to Higgins preferring the Colonel, neither I nor my friend the English lit professor sees any indication of that whatsoever in the play; I doubt the filmmakers had that in mind either. And I don't see how having Eliza marry Higgins instead of Freddy would "lighten it up a little." Also, I don't think they were "pretending it was Pygmalion," I think that it _was_ Pygmalion, and they gave it a different title because it sounded snappier.

As for the drama/comedy issue, Pygmalion had a great deal of comedy in it; I don't think the distinction is that significant, and I still don't see what that has to do with their changing the ending. And Pygmalion was only very loosely based on the myth, if at all; if you ask me, Shaw just chose the title to evoke the myth, and never intended to imply that the story was the same.

Finally, I don't at all think that the authors should be "forced" to follow Pygmalion; I merely expressed my opinion that the new ending was stupid. Perhaps the filmmaker does have the right to make such changes, but if the original story is perfectly good, why change it to something that makes no sense?

What's worse than Book Banning

Post 15

bludragon, aka the Dragon Queen of Damogran

Everyone has raised some very interesting points.

Gavroche wrote:
"I have a later edition [of Fahrenheit 451] with a note from Ray Bradbury. Something truly ironic and horrifying happened with that novel. Over the years since its publication editors at the Publishing house, unbeknownst to Bradbury or anybody else, quietly removed some of the harsh language from the novel from edition to edition. A college student wrote a letter to Bradbury telling him about their discovery comparing two editions. You can probably imagaine Bradbury's response."

The above is the scarey stuff; when someone [publisher or whoever] quietly and unannounced changes what an author wrote to avoid controversy. And in Farenheit 451--of all places!!!

Even when it SAYS 'abridged' or 'edited for younger readers' [that's the one I dont like], the reader often does not realize that they are NOT reading the complete work. Sometimes these statements are displayed prominently on the title page of the book, and sometimes they are hidden, or worse, not stated at all.

And the danger IS what Gargleblaster says--if the original does not survive, or if it it is not referred to--it will just cease to exist. My personal opinion is that Huck Finn should NOT be edited [watered down] for schools. There's always the possibility that the edited version will be presented with no comment about what was edited out, or why. I think that this is intellectually dishonest. Where better than in a school to discuss controversial issues. Indeed, if not there, WHERE then??? smiley - sadface

The problems with translations of works are unavoidable, I think. Some things simply cannot be easily transported from one language to another without sometimes taking on different meanings. If the translator is unskilled, or if they translate word for word rather than trying to capture the spirit and meaning of the original, the effort can end up being quite humorous. But I agree --'Paris' cannot possibly be translated as 'hunchback'. smiley - winkeye

Responsible translators and editors do add notes that indicate what has been changed because of language differences; or if they cut or adapted things. The more scrupulous the editor, the more complete the notes. These kind of things are not what I would consider censorship, although they do sometimes change meaning. Again, it's a case of realizing that what you are reading/seeing is an edited, translated, or adapted version. When more than one manuscript of something exists, [and the author is no longer living] there are hot scholarly debates about which version of the text most closely matched the author's intent. For that matter frequently the same debates take place when the author IS still alive...smiley - winkeye

Authors sometimes publish different editions of their own works too. Stephen King's first editon of the Stand was shorter than a 'complete' edition that was recently published. After he became famous, the editors probably were willing to add in the stuff they told him to cut originally. So which was the 'correct' edition??? interesting question...

And I guess it's just a matter of personal opinion if you like, or don't like the differences between a book and a movie made from that book. But to assume they are always going to be the same is a mistake. Many high school students have 'saved time' by seeing the movie instead of reading the book for an assignment, only to find out that they are two different things with two different endings, different character development, etc., etc. Whoops! smiley - smiley

And it just occurred to me: look at the MANY versions of h2g2; the show, the video, the book. And in this case the book came after the screenplay. Try to figger out which was the 'right' version of that one. Guess only DNA knows for sure, and I suspect that he's not real sure either... hehehehehehehehe


What's worse than Book Banning

Post 16

Blatherskite the Mugwump - Bandwidth Bandit

Absolutely dead-on correct. If there is no introduction which discusses what was edited, why it was edited, and what effect it has on the work, then editing/abridging novels is an atrocious practice, becauese people won't have any reason to go back to the original. They'll think they have the whole story, when that isn't the case.

As for h2g2, DNA's introduction to the complete five-book trilogy edition confusedly states that there really is no true version. Just sample them all and enjoy, without being bothered by things like Earth being destroyed in book one and then suddenly reappearing in book four.

What's worse than Book Banning

Post 17

bludragon, aka the Dragon Queen of Damogran

so Earth's gone today, and back tomorrow--
details, details...
little things like that shouldnt bother us

remember what Emerson said:
"Consistancy is the hobgoblin of small minds"

smiley - winkeye


Links to stuff about banning Huck Finn

Post 18

bludragon, aka the Dragon Queen of Damogran

Here's a page that links to all kinda background on how Huck Finn has been censored--starting in 1885 and continuing all the way right up to two days ago!!! YIKES!!

Huck Finn Debated; historical background

There's also links to allkinda cool stuff about Mark Twain at the same place:


Links to stuff about banning Huck Finn

Post 19


Have you read the novel "The Day they came to arrest the book"? all about Huck Finn in an american school. interesting. I forget who by.

What's worse than Book Banning

Post 20


not to nit-pick but I believe it's "A FOOLISH consistency is the hobgoblin of small minds" Emerson smiley - cheers

I suppose this furthers the point that the way in which people interpret a work - leaving out or adding things according to their vision - can slightly or completely change the original work. As we read or view something, we bring different experiences, thoughts, prejudices, etc. to its interpretation.

Although the original author may have meant for there to be one message(keeping in mind that many literary works contain more than one meaning; ambiguity as a tool to offer different, yet possible ways of knowing)it is almost impossible to remain unbiased as we read and take things in.

There is another layer to this thought-process. I had the pleasure of being in a class held in a Rare Book Room. The class was shown how an old-fashioned printing press was used, in the time Shakespeare's plays were written. It was a thing of beauty. We were shown how the compositor would find all the letters without even looking. His hands knew exactly where all the characters were in this box that had myriad little compartments. My point, here, is that this was a human being, not a machine choosing each character and its placement. Humans err.

It seems impossible to say that one knows what an original work of Shakespeare looks like because of this. Once an error was found in the pile of printed text, changes would be made and printing would resume. However, the mistake pages would not be taken out. They remained on the bottom of the pile and were added to books. Thus, there would be many, many versions of the original text.

Of course, with today's technology there are likely to be alot less mistakes. But I found it interesting nonetheless, because it made me aware of an entirely new way of looking at the printed word.

I wonder if any work CAN remain pristine?; on paper or in our minds.

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