A Canadian publisher has taken the liberty of changing the Christmas poem most of us know by the phrase ‘Twas the night before Christmas’ so there are no references to smoking. Specifically, this verse is gone:
The stump of a pipe he held tight in his teeth,
And the smoke it encircled his head like a wreath;
He had a broad face and a little round belly,
That shook, when he laughed like a bowlful of jelly.
I’m not sure how they restrained themselves from also “fixing” this poem to take out references to Santa’s weight problem.
I think what offends me most as a writer is that once one creates a work, it should be respected and not fooled with except, perhaps, for the established fair use of parody. Unfortunately, this change has been made in deadly seriousness, so as not to expose children to a positive reference to smoking.
It may seem inane, but consider what other changes could be made in a similar spirit to other works.
We could edit Mark Twain’s Huckleberry Finn so as to eliminate any reference to slavery. Even more important than that would be substituting “African American” for the term “nigger.” This has actually already happened in an edition published by NewSouth Books, a publisher based in Montgomery, AL.
I have to agree with David L. Ulin, who wrote, “Literature, after all, is not there to reassure us; it’s supposed to reveal us, in all our contradictory complexity. The fact that it makes us uncomfortable is part of the point—like all great art, it demands that we confront our half-truths and self-deceptions, the justifications and evasions by which we measure out our daily lives.”
The change to Huckleberry Finn was probably made to make the book more palatable as a reading text for middle and high school students. Personally, I’d rather they simply removed it from syllabi used for students in that age range. They can study it at the college level where their apparently feeble little minds can better handle the n-word.
My question is this: If people feel free to (pardon a neologism) fig-leafize works of fiction, can we be far from revizing history books to make for more comfortable reading?