Huckleberry Finn

Ad usum Delphini: should we Bowdlerize children’s books?

The Ture Sventon books are a series of Swedish children’s detective stories written by Åke Holmberg 1948-1973. They are locally well-known and appreciated, but henceforth Ture Sventon i Paris (1953) will likely not be republished. The reason is that the publisher Rabén & Sjögren wanted to remove the word “neger” in the book, and the Swedish Writers’ Union (who owns the copyright to the books) refused this change, since it would change the character of the book. They acknowledged that it was a word with a racist resonance but also a part of cultural history, and hence it could not be removed or replaced with “colored” or “black”. They suggested adding an explanatory introduction instead. The publisher choose not to reissue the book.

In English-speaking countries another recent controversy is about the new edition of Huckleberry Finn that replaces use of the word “nigger” with “slave” and “injun” to “Indian”. Again, literature experts complains that this fundamentally changes the novel (which after all is an anti-racist book) and might have deeply upset the author, yet others think that this will allow it to be read more in schools or public. Are we seeing examples of well-intentioned acts of “cultural vandalism and obscurantism that constricts rather than expands the life of the mind”, or just attempts to reduce impediments for the public to read the works?

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