Truth be told, I don’t think this is necessarily a 100% bad idea. Indeed, I toyed with the idea of publishing a re-edited version of Huckleberry Finn myself but never got around to it because I’m a lazy sod.
I would have selected a different word than Alan Gribben’s choice of “slave”, however.
My word of choice to replace the infamous n-bomb would have been “[African]”.
Not “African” but ‘[African]”. And always in brackets and italicized or presented in a different font from the rest of the text.
It’s foolish to pretend the word is not there in the original text. And has been pointed out, “slave” is a job description, “[African]” is a condition of birth.
My idea would have been to add a short preface to the work (much like this post) explaining why the substitution was being made in that particular fashion.
I fully understand students, teachers, and parents not wanting to be exposed or expose others to such a word, particularly when Twain drops it as often as 6 times a page.
Calling Jim a slave, while accurate, also robs the story of its full impact. Jim is not deemed a lesser member of society because he is a slave, he is a slave because he is deemed a lesser member of society.
To get that point across, I wanted to create a speedbump with “[African]”.
I wanted new readers to understand when & where the original had been changed.
I wanted them to be aware of how often & how casually & how brutally the word was used.
No, it was not Twain’s intent to demean former slaves by dropping the n-bomb; quite the contrary. The beauty of Huckleberry Finn is that Huck overcomes his own culture, his own upbringing to do the right thing.
Even if he can’t articulate it in a way socially acceptable then or now.
In related news, Canada has recently banned Dire Straits’ classic 80s rock song “Money For Nothing” over use of the f-word.
No, not that f-word, the other f-word.
No, no, no, the other other f-word. You know, the one you can use only when describing this scene in Frankenstein:
Now, what’s amusing about this is that "Money F** Nothing" is being sung from the POV a blue collar worker who doesn't understand / appreciate the work that goes into being a successful musician/pop star.
It's Knopfler & Sting giving the raspberry to a segment of their audience.
What is also interesting is that the chorus includes "Get your money for nothing / And your chicks for free" which uses a somewhat dismissive/patronizing term for females and implies they're all whores to one degree or another, but nobody in Canada seems to have taken umbrage over that.