Changing the words takes the literature out of literature…

January 5, 2011

I don’t want literature turned into Orwellian newspeak. What makes literature literature as opposed to entertainment or drivel is that is says something about life, about the times in which it is supposed to have taken place, and it has staying power.

I’m saying this in reaction to something I just read about someone publishing a new volume of Mark Twain works, but he is going to take out the dreaded N word (well it is used some 200 or more times in Huck Finn) and other “objectionable references”, such as Injun Joe being changed to Indian Joe in Tom Sawyer. Oh, and that N word is being changed to “slave“.

While just using the N word does not necessarily make something literature — I often note that word is used quite often in literature of the past — changing the author’s original words degrades the work and does indeed take the literature out of literature. Twain said that the difference between one choice of a word and the right word is something like the difference between lightning bug and lightning.

Some people just want to be entertained and have no real use or interest in literature, just like apparently a whole lot of people just want entertainment fare on television and the movies, skip the quality.

But a society that strips itself of its literature (and I include written and other forms, such as movies), strips itself of its soul and its historical understanding of itself.

Now certainly requiring school kids, especially young ones, to read works that have offending words in them is a touchy subject. There needs to be explanation, and perhaps it needs to be figured out which books are age appropriate.

Strangely, though, I read the Adventures of Huckleberry Finn when I was real young and just thought it a highly entertaining story. I already knew that he was using a no-no word (or words), but my parents had explained the deal with that word to me already.

I hate to admit it, but I did not know until I took a college literature class that Huck Finn was considered THE American novel.

I have to assume learned people, historians and others, have concluded that Twain was, besides being quite colorful in his descriptions, accurate in his depiction of Americana of the era in which he wrote.

If you change his words, it’s no longer accurate.

I understand there have been past attempts to tone down or water down Twain.

What’s the point?

If students can’t handle literature, how can they handle life?


The item that induced me to make this post is:;_ylt=AlG6DxmG.qqcjJvlAUdD8Fqs0NUE;_ylu=X3oDMTNyZjNmdWttBGFzc2V0A2FwLzIwMTEwMTA1L3VzX3JldmlzaW5nX21hcmtfdHdhaW4EY2NvZGUDbW9zdHBvcHVsYXIEY3BvcwMxMARwb3MDNwRwdANob21lX2Nva2UEc2VjA3luX2hlYWRsaW5lX2xpc3QEc2xrA25ld2VkaXRpb25yZQ

Grinding out words on the screen…

July 2, 2008



By Tony Walther

They say that if you saw how sausage was made you wouldn’t want to eat it. Maybe if you saw how a novel was written you wouldn’t want to read it, but I hope that’s not the case.

On another blog site I have been posting my novel Tuleville Sundown as I write it ( Now that’s probably not the best way to go about it, but it gives me something to do and it forces me to get on with the thing. The idea for the novel first popped into my head more than 20 years ago.

The setting is in the San Joaquin Valley in California in a small town along what used to be the Southern Pacific Railroad (now Union Pacific) in the middle of that flat, semi-desert landscape, made green only by the grace of irrigation water, some pumped from beneath the ground and much imported from the flow that comes out of the high country of the Sierra Nevada. The story takes place in the 1950s.

I didn’t set out to be a writer, but somehow I wandered into it back in the early 70s when nothing else seemed to work out for or suit me. I went to work for a newspaper in the town where I had attended high school. I worked at several newspapers over the years – left the business and came back to it and then left it again. The first time I left it was voluntary, the second time was back in the 90s when we were all hearing about downsizing and corporate takeovers. I got caught up in that. I guess I could have roamed some more to find another job in that field, but it did not seem practical at the time. So, in what might seem like a strange move to some, I became a truck driver. I’ve written about that before.

I spent so much time sitting around and waiting for things as a truck driver (until I got my last driving job) that I thought I would have plenty of time to scratch out a novel on a note pad. But I didn’t. I wasn’t in the mood for that.

But at some point, after getting our first computer, I did start to write Tuleville Sundown – no I take that back, I ran across some old papers recently that show I actually started writing in on a typewriter way back when. The beginning of my novel was different. Later I began writing it on the computer. Then I got the bright idea of posting it on the web as I wrote it. I had already written several pages when I first began posting it, so all I did each day or so was do a little re-write and correcting of mistakes (the ones I could catch) and then post away. But now it’s all I can do to keep up with the readers (and I know I have some).

I’ve had a general outline, very general, in my head for years. But each day is a new experience.

I’ve found that in writing, be it a news story, or a commentary or essay such as my Walther Report usually is, or writing my novel, getting out a rough draft is not the problem (most of the time), but getting something into shape enough that I would want someone to read it takes a little longer. But when I worked for the newspapers, time constraints forced my rough draft into being my final draft, most of the time.

In this novel-in-progress endeavor, I’ve nearly forced myself into the same position, but not quite. There is no law that says I have to go with less than I want, except that I have a kind of implied promise that I will move the story along by posting it in the first place and asking folks to read it.

I also, as some of you may know, posted another fictional story on another blog site, but I have held back on further progress on that one for the time being.

And as I have mentioned before, I am dealing with cancer. But I may be able to go back to work in the near future, or maybe not. Nonetheless, I plan to move Tuleville Sundown forward, so if you’ve been reading it, thank you, and I’ll try to speed things up or at least keep a page a day going.

The Walther Report is usually a comment or observation on current events or some wild tale from my past or both. I have no dearth of subjects for it, but sometimes I tire, and sometimes there’s just too much going on to get my mind settled on one subject. This instant access to everything via the internet is overwhelming at times.

But, I’ll scan the web and come up with something for another Walther Report by tomorrow or soon thereafter, I imagine, and I’ll try to keep Tuleville Sundown moving along.


I’ve really opened myself up to trouble with the lead into this blog – folks will call me the “word butcher” or will say I have called writing a “real grind,” but that’s the chance one takes when he just can’t help from putting words onto a computer screen each day.