Monday, January 10, 2011

Cleaning up Mark Twain a very bad idea

Leonard Pitts has written another of his excellent columns, this time attacking the publisher who has "cleaned" up Mark Twain's Huckleberry Finn by substituting "runaway slave" for the n-word used by Twain's character. You can read it here

It seems to me that Pitts' analysis could with equal force be applied to the church bureaucrats who have been removing "sexist" language from classic old hymns in the new editions of hymnals, and the people who "colorize" old black and white movies.

I have sometimes jokingly threatened to form an organization calling itself "The Committee For Artistic Integrity" that would slip quietly into churches, slap sticky inserts with the original words over verses of hymns that have been messed with, and leave a Pink Panther-like calling card proclaiming that "the Committee For Artistic Integrity has struck again!"

No one would argue that composers and writers should refrain from writing new hymns that apply current standards (or fashions, if you prefer). Some have done so, and often with very nice results. I myself have written church music that complies with current standards. (You can access it on my webpage.) But when somebody changes a line in the classic old hymn, " O God Our Help in Ages Past", so that instead of "Time like an ever rolling stream bears all its sons away" we find "time like an ever rolling stream bears all who breath away" it is just too much! While I find the inclusion of our former house cats Lady Bird, S. Cat O'Logical, and others (who breathed) touching, I do note that they, like human mortals, are not breathing when born away. Worst of all, the new words are uninspiringly abstract, replacing the simple and concrete word in the original verse. Did anybody ever think that "sons" did not refer to children and indeed people in general and that the verse implies that daughters are not born away or are not missed when they die?!

And I was outraged when the newest Methodist hymnal inserted an asterisk next to the line in "O For A Thousand Tongues To Sing" which proclaims "Here him, ye deaf, his praise, ye dumb, Your loosened tongues employ; Ye blind, behold your savior come; and leap ye lame, for joy" and notes at the bottom of the page that this line "may be omitted." This inspiring hymn has traditionally been the first one in Methodist hymnals, and it seems to me that this verse is in no way a putdown of the classes of people referred to. And I would bet that it has inspired more than one scientist to work a little harder to develop ways to help the deaf to hear, etc. Further, since when does a congregation need permission to leave out some of the verses when a hymn is sung. It is frequently done when services promise to drag on for too long.

No comments:

Post a Comment

Comments are e-mailed to me. I will post excerpts from those I think will most interest readers.