Monday, January 24, 2011

On an Old Dead Writer

<--- See the picture of that fellow over there? That's who I'm going to write about today. No, I'm not going to rant about the controversy--you know, about that English professor who just published a version of Huck Finn free of all those nasty, demeaning words the original author believed were important enough to include in the story. I'm not going to address the question of whether "Native American Joe," "First Settler Joe" or "First Peoples Joe" are more appropriate than "Injun Joe." I'm not going to argue that folks used the term "half-breed" and not the term "half-blood" back in the day when the story took place. And I'm not going to argue that gutting the word "nigger" from the story and expecting it to read true makes about as much sense as castrating a bull and then telling it to go inseminate a cow. I'm not going to do or say any of that because, you know, this guy's a kolledge perfesser and I'm not.

What I am going to do is write about something that happened to me the other day.

Last Monday, I think it was, I took a book with me to lunch, as is my wont. Now, this book is a special book to me. It is the Autobiography of Mark Twain (volume 1) which was just published this year, one hundred years after Twain's death, as specified in his will. This is a big honker of a book, at about 800 pages, and weighing in at more than two or three Chihuahuas. I love Twain and I've been waiting for this book for some time. The young waitress who was assigned to my table asked me what I was reading, I closed the book and showed her the cover. The title of the book was plainly indicated there: Autobiography of Mark Twain (volume 1), and a large picture of him graced the front cover. She looked at it for a minute, glanced at me quizzically, then said, "Didn't he write books or something?"

I stared at her for a moment, unsure of what to say. Eventually I muttered, "A couple."

She went back to her other tables. I wept.

And I weep for the future. Please tell me your kids, grandkids or nieces and nephews would recognize a picture of Mark Twain and know who he was. And if they are yet too young, please tell me you'll read to them his stories AS WRITTEN, and promise me you'll use the uncomfortable parts as teachable moments. 'Cause that's why Sam Clemons put them there.


Thank you.


  1. *stands up and applauds* I completely agree, Haggis. This is another turning point for this country, and one that will have grave consequences. It's too bad some of his writings are public domain, because I think it's a disgrace for ANYONE to change the words of an author--at least out of respect if for nothing else.

    And it's not surprising with the speed of technology and certain demands on younger generations, that they're unaware of Mark Twain or any of the classics.

    Past words--dusty volumes--will slowly fade if our government continues to allow people to change words (of government or other means) because it makes them uncomfortable.

  2. I agree. Rewriting Huck Finn to make it more palatable is silly. Reading it the way he wrote it, provides an opportunity to discuss the way life was in the late 1800's. Changing the "racist" language whitewashes the story.

    You know, Mark Twain looks a little bit like Albert Einstein, that guy who came up with a math equation or something. :)

    1. I thought the same thing, inventor of the light bulb I believe.

  3. I actually was looking at that picture and thought Mark Twain looked like Buddy Ebsen from The Beverly Hillbillies.

  4. Thanks, guys. But I thought the picture looked sort of like me.

  5. i want that book, haggis.
    can i have yours? like, now!?

    anyway, just to ease your mind a bit,...the little crays have seen me twain books 3 and 4 times over already. they know what he looks like, they know the stories and yes, we've even discussed those controversial words. *gasp*


  6. I have to say the IMPressive helper who presumes to feel the need to wash the words of another just makes me want to revive the old lynch mob. Perhaps if we call it a "tree of knowledge award" he will be so fooled that the brand new rope around his neck won't make him uncomfortable. Lord knows, nobody should ever be subjected to uncomfortable truths of the past! Thats why they are past, so we can forget all about it and rework our version to suit the fashionably stupid police! The FastuPo rule....all bow to the Wordhaters and book burners. They make me feel so protected from my own decisions....whew. Others must protectorate me, for I art sign toten stupid! LOL sorry I just feel like its time to start hiding books in jars so someone can find them again in a few thousand years!

  7. I will make sure the little bug knows. I have been trying to get her to read some classics. She better get to that one afore its all gussied up n shit :/

  8. I'm glad the little crays and the little Bugs will get a proper introduction to this great American writer. Uncle Haggis will be happy to provide them any number of suggested readings.

    HowLynn, I'm not quite ready for the lynch mob, but I won't mind so much if the perfesser's intellectually hoisted on his own petard over this whole thing.

  9. Prompted by your post, I asked my 18yo son if he knew who Mark Twain was.

    He went off!! He ranted to ME about what they %^%*&^ did to Huck and...

    Well, pretty much what you said but not suitably for daytime TV. :)

    I was pleasantly surprised.