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Censorship: Always a 'Twain' wreck

Posted By Jim Fletcher On 09/27/2011 @ 1:38 pm In Diversions | Comments Disabled

From beyond the grave, Mark Twain continues to amuse. His wry observations of humanity make him, in my opinion, certainly the greatest of America writers.

A story this week from Massachusetts gives one the sense that Tom Sawyer’s alter ego is still flesh-and-blood:

It seems that more than a century ago (this would have been just a few years before Twain passed), a library in Massachusetts banned the author’s book, “Eve’s Diary,” a satirical look at the Garden of Eden account. The Charlton Public Library now has two copies of the book; one was checked out within hours of the ban being lifted.

Why the censorship in 1906?

The book’s illustrations depict Eve in the nude. Evidently, artist Lester Ralph understood human nature as well as the author, and Eve in the book appears as she did the instant she was created. Adam appears to have some clothing/covering. Drove book sales, no doubt.

A representative for the library said they were perplexed that anyone, even a century ago, would have found the illustrations offensive.

Ironically, the book has been returned to the library’s shelves in time for Banned Book Week; A blurb in a local paper alerted the librarians to the story, and a first edition of the book was located and will be displayed.

The really amusing part of the story comes from a letter that Twain wrote at the time, in which he said: “Nobody attaches weight to the freaks of the Charlton Library.”

The whole flap over the Mother of All the Living appearing au naturale seems tame by today’s examples of true filth being available virtually to anyone. Yet it raises the issue of censorship.

And I’m not for censorship.

Perhaps the most famous example in modern times, of course, is that of the Nazis, who banned and burned books in the run up to much worse persecution.

In a flawed world, flawed ideas and worldviews will proliferate. So will sound ideas and worldviews. If we want to keep what we perceive to be dangerous works away from curious eyes … how do we do that?

We come at it from a different direction, and this direction isn’t fun because it requires engagement and work.

If, for example, you don’t want your tenth grader exposed to the nihilism of Hunter S. Thompson, ground that child in your own values – I’m going to go ahead and call them biblical values – so that when/if he/she reads the so-called Gonzo Journalist … Thompson will not turn said child toward the left.

Sometimes, I think, we have too much fear and loathing among conservatives who want to censor certain ideas. I remember once, in my consultations with a publisher, advocating a print run of Darwin’s “On the Origin of Species,” but doing it with commentary from creationists.

The publisher thought I was out of my mind because “we can’t promote evolution!”

He didn’t get it. It’s still a good idea.

Another example is Christopher Hitchens’ “God is Not Great.” I understand the reluctance of Christian parents who don’t want their children to read that book.

Yet I go back to my previous point, using this book as the perfect example.

For all his brilliance, Hitchens must have phoned in this manuscript. His reasons for disbelieving in God are shockingly lame. Use that as a life lesson for young people who are impressionable (I recognize, as David Horowitz does, that most American colleges and universities are led by leftists in academia). Go through the book and make it a study. Underline passages. Discuss them.

After all, we know human nature quite well. That which is banned becomes the forbidden fruit, and once it’s tasted, there’s no going back.

Better to protect our children from the snakes in the grass by confronting them head on.

I think Twain would agree.


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