WikiLit Website Promises "Books That Don't Hurt"
Cambridge, MA - In a response to the recent uproar over replacing the words “nigger” and “injun” in Mark Twain’s Huckleberry Finn with less inflammatory nouns, a collective of educators and linguists have launched WikiLit, a site that offers versions of classic literary titles in a “more civilized, less confrontational” version.
“WikiLit allows readers to enjoy previously troublesome books by letting them replace segments of the text with more reassuring and less problematic substitutes,” said WikiLit founder Brent Bright. “Words and ideas are painful reminders of being human, and we’re trying to make this human experience a little easier for people who bruise easily,” Bright said. Readers are encouraged to replace words or post re-written sections that had once caused discomfort and ambiguity in high school and college classes. “It gives readers a whole new level of interaction with a work so that they may enjoy it at their own comfort level.”
The first book on the site is a rendition of Nathaniel Hawthorne’s The Scarlet Letter, the story of Hester Prynne, who is forced by her puritan community to wear a scarlet “A” on her breast as penance for adultery. The WikiLit version presents Prynne wearing a “BC” as, Bright says, “a symbol of bad choices.”
“She’s a single mom, and we don’t want other single mothers to feel the taint of such a term. We’re inviting like-minded readers to step in and rewrite the sections of the books that are hurtful or incompatible with their belief systems.”
Herman Melville’s Moby-Dick, for example, has been returned to a much shorter action/adventure, with the ambivalent relationship between Ishmael and Queequeg “made more like a buddy story,” with new female crew members and Captain Ahab now “a role model to the disabled.”
“In The Scarlet Letter, the word ‘adultery’ is freighted with judgment, which worried some academics,” said Marilyn Edgmont, head of Keep American Literature Modest (KALM) a professors’ collective that monitors the site. “Students hated that she was involved in a sexual liaison with her minister (Reverend Dimmesdale). It grossed them out, and frankly teachers hate to have to answer questions, since every situation is relative. So we let readers create their own literature.” One WikiAuthor rewrote later chapters of the book as a “bromance” between the Reverend and his nemesis Roger Chillingsworth, which was quickly edited out by the site’s moderator. “In some states, that’s problematic. Until some of the laws are cleared up, we’re going to leave it as a traditional love story,” Edgmont said. Later in the afternoon, the ending was recrafted as a “more traditional romance,” in which Hester and Dimmesdale run away together to raise their now-adopted daughter, Pearl. “It was beautiful,” said Edgmont, blushing. “It’s how I always wanted it to end.”
A new downloadable application available for $1.99 on the KALM site offers a find-and-replace service for potentially uncomfortable nouns, verbs, and modifiers found in American literature such as “harlot” (replaced with sister), “queer” (unconventional), “black” (hued), “prudent” (saintly), “white” (unpigmented), “rape” (unwanted attention), “savage” (spontaneous), “son-of-a-bitch” (canine descended), “niggardly” (slavish), “fat” (husky), “native” (first inhabitor), “jew” (wanderer), and “bitch slap” (refudiate).
The list of available titles includes “tidier” Wikilit versions of renowned works such as The Last of the Mohicans, Charlotte’s Web, To Kill a Mockingbird, Uncle Tom’s Cabin, Native Son, The Fight Club, Spoon River Anthology, The Bell Jar, Catcher in the Rye, Fahrenheit 451, and virtually anything written by Edgar Allan Poe or Allen Ginsberg. New books are being uploaded to the site weekly, each available in Kindle, Nook, and iPad versions. KALM’s goal is that by the end of the decade every American literary work will be represented by a “more reassuring” version.
“We’re not trying to rewrite the classics,” KALM’s mission statement explains. “We abhor censorship. This is simply a thematic cleansing to put readers who are already overwhelmed with the self-esteem compromising complexities of 24-hour news, mutating cultural boundaries, face-to-face conversations, and celebrity surgeries in a comfort zone to enjoy the classics.” With Huckleberry Finn, WikiLiterature has “freshened” Twain’s racial terms and cleaned up Jim’s diction to sound “more like Michael Steele, except without all the baggage.”
“We can’t wait to let readers have a go at Shakespeare and The Bible,” Bright said. “For now, though, we’re just sticking with American writers.”