Sunday, January 9, 2011

On Bad Words and Travel Destinations

The internet was alive this week with news stories, articles and blogs about the announcement that NewSouth Books of Alabama will publish a new version of  the classics Adventures of Huckleberry Finn and Tom Sawyer in February with the offensive words 'nigger' and 'injun' removed. Yes...I did indeed use the 'N-word' as it is so often described. I agree that it's an ugly word from an ugly period of American history and we may all have to live with it for a long time. It's a shame to think that they feel that they have the right to change the author's words. I glanced through my ancient copy of Uncle Tom's Cabin and it didn't take long to find the 'N-word'. And also the 'S-word' (Sambo). Hmm...perhaps it will be next on the hit list (if it hasn't been sanitized already). In future years someone may find the country of Spain as offensive and they will substitute that country with Sweden in all of Hemingway's novels. Sadly, the cliche "opening up a large kettle of fish" comes to mind.

In my opinion, words are just words. They are reflective of the time and location of where they were written and what was happening. I once worked with Sudanese man who said that the 'N-word' was not offensive to him. He had no history with the word and it had no meaning for him. In American culture, the word was offensive then and it still is now. That does not give license to some to change the works of others. What  do you do if you are walking down the street with you youngster and you pass a crowd of you folks (boys AND girls) using a lot of 'F' words, 'S' words and a whole lot worse? You tell them that those dirty words are NOT appropriate and should not be used. Is that not also the procedure when one is introducing literature to their children? Anyhow...I'll get off my tiny soapbox now...

I'd like to link you to poet Jhon Baker and his blog THE PLATITUDES OF WILLFUL RESEMBLANCES where he discussed this topic in greater depth and with far more intelligence and compassion than I could ever hope to muster. Follow his link to an article by Mark Brendle, media critic for far the best words I've seen on this topic to date.

On a more upbeat note, I'd also like to link you to the NY Times travel list of 41 Places to Go in 2011

On the list, as you would expect, are many exotic destinations. From Chile to Thailand, from Japan to Turkey. Lovely places to choose from. Two Canadian destinations managed to sneak onto the list. At number 25 was Whistler, B.C. It's mountainous and scenic and one of the top ski destinations in the country. The other location? Our very own Fogo Island on the north coast of Newfoundland has made the cut at number 22. They say "...saltbox houses and deconsecrated churches that perch over the North Atlantic and rugged pristine landscapes." Yet another reason for you to select The Rock as a future holiday destination (as if visiting Laurita Miller and Alan Davidson were not reason enough!) I have visited the scenic island once before, but Laurita has ties to the island and can attest to it's beauty and artistic community far better than I can. Anyhoo, take a few minutes to peruse the NY Times list.


Jhon Baker said...

A much gracious thank you for the link and kind kind words.

Laurita said...

Thanks for the link, Alan. I'm putting it on my list of blogs to visit and read this week.

That was pretty neat about Fogo Island, wasn't it? All those calls I've made to the NY Times finally paid off. :)

Cathy Webster (Olliffe) said...

Newfoundland is SO pretty. You and Laurita and everyone else living there are very lucky.
I agree with your Huck Finn rant. Leave literature alone!

David Barber said...

Alan, nice post mate. There's a lot knocking about re: Twain and the N word. I'll check that link out. And I'll certainly drop in for a cold one if we ever get over to destination #22!!

Bukowski's Basement said...

Thanks Alan... I love John's blog. I wrote an editorial on this very subject for my paper. If they ever frikkin' print it, I'll send you the link.

Pearl said...

Over from Jhon's blog and agree with you 100% on the subject of Huckleberry Finn's revision. The only way to remove the power of a word is to understand where it comes from and what its meant over the years.


Mark Kerstetter said...

It's hard to know how to respond to that edition of Huck Finn, it's so idiotic on so many levels. Pearl is right, young adults reading it should be aware of when it was published and know something about the history of the United States. The use of the N word is necessary to show both that Huck is a product of his time and that he discovers Jim's humanity.

Alan W. Davidson said...

Jhon- You are most welcome, sir.

Laurita- I'm sure that you'll enjoy Jhon's poetry. I'm sure that the NY TImes will be glad to hear the last of you!

Cathy- Perhaps we should leaf through some of the Canadian classics and edit out the offensive stuff about poutine, stubbies and smoked meat.

David- I shall keep the fridge stocked and the guest room tidy in case you pop by, my friend.

Ant- Thanks for linking to that editorial...I thought it was great.

Pearl- That's absolutely true, Pearl. We can't be afraid to try to understand where the anger and hatred come from.

Mark- That all makes sense. Perhaps they need to publish that edition with a preface explaining that very thing.