Mark Twain Meets The Hardy Boys

7 Jan

The Hardy Boys - The Shattered HelmetAllow me to ease your fears up front, the subject doesn’t refer to a bit of fan fiction I’m about to unleash.

There’s been a bit of hubbub lately about the following bit of Mark Twain news.

What is a word worth? According to Publishers Weekly, NewSouth Books’ upcoming edition of Mark Twain’s seminal novel “Adventures of Huckleberry Finn” will remove all instances of the N-word — I’ll give you a hint, it’s not nonesuch — present in the text and replace it with slave. – CNN

The argument against generally goes something like:

The vapid, smiley-faced effrontery of it corrodes the foundations of respect for American literature. – CNN

At the age of nine I received my first Hardy Boys book. It was a ragged bit of work – a cast off from the school library that was being discarded due to damage to its binding – but it was the first novel I ever owned, and it certainly wouldn’t be my last adventure with Joe and Frank.
Hardy Boys - The Missing Chums
Years later I was rambling around the countryside in my Grandparents’ pickup truck, and we stopped to make one of those random neighbourly visitations that seems to make up so much of the farm business. My brother and I were cast adrift in a front room to fend for ourselves, and my eyes fell upon an ancient Franklin W. Dixon tome.

That’s when I discovered a truth that the safely bowdlerize libraries and bookstores I’d frequented had denied me.

To be fair, we didn’t have the wikipedia back then:

Beginning in 1959, the books were extensively revised, largely to eliminate racist stereotypes. 

– and they aren’t joking, I made it three pages in, and, even as a boy of twelve, I had to put the book down.
Huckleberry Finn and the case of the missing wordingAm I claiming that The Hardy Boys series is somehow the literary equivalent of Huckleberry Finn? No.

Am I claiming that discovering missing bits of historical racism might cast a different light on the work in question? Yes.

The Hardy Boys Manga

Still, while I do feel that letting the work stand or fall on its own integrity is important, in the end, I don’t think it will matter much.

One sanitized edition in a deluge of public domain copying isn’t going to conquer the market, and if edited classics were the way to save readability, our libraries would be full of these:

Great Illustrated Classics

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10 Responses to “Mark Twain Meets The Hardy Boys”

  1. bmj2k January 7, 2011 at 15:54 #

    I wish I could hit the like button twice, there is so much good here, the least of which is owning nearly every book pictured.

    Expect more later when I’m off my iPod and back at home base.

    • JRD Skinner January 7, 2011 at 16:37 #

      Hah – I had to do some Googling to find those books, but only because I couldn’t enter a room full of napping baby.

      Looking forward to the follow-up.

  2. bmj2k January 7, 2011 at 20:15 #

    I think the censored Huck Finn is just a blip on the radar. It isn’t anything that hasn’t been done before- I’ve seen that same story many times over the years. The “non n-word” version has been around for years. While I don’t think it will ever come close to supplanting the original, nor will you likely find it most bookstores, it is part of a disturbing trend. Taking out the offending word merely sanitizes something. Getting rid of a word ignores the issue instead of addressing the issue. When you redact it from a historical novel, you lose the context, the culture of the times, in effect you lose your own history. Instead of Huck Finn becomming a tool for understanding it becomes just another novel. We should be able to discuss the n-word, instead we ignore it. (And it is sad that I, in an intellectual discussion, don’t use it becuase someone may log in and yell about it.)

    In general, I don’t understand how a single word can someone fired. Evenin the old Don Imus “nappy-headed ho’s” controversy, I was shocked by how many people simply reacted to the words without looking at the context, looking at if it was serious, looking at the guy who said it, etc. I fail to see how words can exist in a vaccuum. I get that some words have only offensive connotations, like “kike,” but that mean it can never, ever, be said or used without being offensive? How did my use of it in the preceeding sentence offend anyone? Again, context. I reject that a word can absolutely offensive, in every context, no matter how it is used.

    As for the Hardy Boys, I still regret that I sold my near-complete set of 1970’s and 80’s editions. In fact, just for nostalgia, I went on eBay and bought a copy of the first volume.

    At any rate, I always knew they were updated over the years. They were updated to modernize the language, someitmes to update teh technology, and the illustrations were oftenupdates too. Frank and Joe used to go on dates in jackets and ties. In this case, updating the language doesn’t bother me. You might argue this is hypocritical, but I see the Hardy Boys differently. They are meant to reflect the era, and by updating them they do just that. The older editions still exist. If they were taken away and destroyed everytime a new version came out I might feel differently, but they are still available.

    Of course the old original editions of Huck Finn are also available, but I see the difference in the updating of the books as one of intent. The intent of the new Huck Finn is to placate the sensitive few, while the new HB is simply to make a profitable series of books relevant to a new generation. Like I said, you may see my anger at one and approval of another as hypocritical, but I don’t see the issue as black and white.

    • Supermonge January 7, 2011 at 23:27 #

      Jay Z and Kanye Get to use whatever words they want to and people will buy their crap in Droves…Just Sayin’…

      • bmj2k January 8, 2011 at 00:32 #

        But if you siad the same words…?

      • Supermonge January 8, 2011 at 11:33 #

        Haha…Paul Rubens comes to my house and beats me up…

    • JRD Skinner January 8, 2011 at 01:08 #

      This is a great thought, and I have to agree. The Hardy Boys are light reading that can transform with the times and not lose their original intent (entertainment with a side of sleuthing), where as Huck is a deeper look at the times, even if it does have the ring of adventure to it.

      Thanks a lot for rolling around with this.

      (Also, I wish I could find some video online of Carlin’s “Rape Can Be Funny” routine.)

      • bmj2k January 8, 2011 at 15:51 #

        Amazing. It took me 5 word-happy paragraphs to say what you perfectly summed up in one.

      • JRD Skinner January 9, 2011 at 17:15 #

        It’s easy when I have the advantage of swooping in at the end to summarize, after you’ve done all the hard work of making the argument. 🙂

  3. bmj2k January 7, 2011 at 20:16 #

    And as for the Illustrated Classics, I still own a few of them.

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