Just above see Murray read an excerpt from American great Mark Twain’s The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn. Murray’s appearance at the 1996 Barnes & Noble event apparently came as a surprise to the audience—and to himself. The excerpt he reads might also surprise many readers of Twain’s classic, who probably won’t find it in their copies of the novel. These passages were originally published in Life on the Mississippi but reinserted—“correctly, I guess,” Murray shrugs—into Huck Finn in Random House’s 1996 republication of the novel, marketed as “the only comprehensive edition.” (Read a publication history and summary of the changes in this brief, unsympathetic review of the re-edited text.)
1996 was an interesting year for Twain’s novel. Long at the center of debates over racial sensitivity in public education, and banned many times over, the book figured prominently that year in a tense but fruitful meeting between parents and teachers in Cherry Hill, New Jersey. These discussions produced a new curricular approach that PBS outlines in its teaching guide “Huck Finn in Context,” which offers a variety of responses to the thorny pedagogy of “the ‘n’ word,” racial stereotyping, and reading satire. Beyond the issue of derogatory language, there also arose that year a pugnacious challenge to the book’s place in the American literary canon from novelist Jane Smiley. Smiley’s polemic prompted a lengthy rebuttal in The New York Times from Twain scholar Justin Kaplan.
[Editor’s note: the over hour-long video contains much more than Murray’s reading and is worth watching for its own merits and authors on the panel.]