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BIRMINGHAM, Alabama (Reuters) - A U.S. scholar's decision to publish a new edition of Mark Twain's novel Huckleberry Finn -- with the "N-word" excised in a bid to make it more accessible to readers -- has drawn howls of protest.
Twain scholar Alan Gribben said he decided to reissue the 19th century classic "Adventures of Huckleberry Finn" replacing the slur with the word "slaves" in all 219 places it occurs in the text because the original offended many readers.
Many school systems have banned or simply stopped teaching the books because of the epithet and because of a characterization of Native Americans that is also deleted from the new edition, said Gribben in a telephone interview.
"It is a shame that a single word can form such an impediment to students enjoying the greatness of the narratives and the sharpness of their social critique," said Gribben, a professor of English at Auburn University in Montgomery.
"The 'N-word' possessed, then as now, demeaning implications more vile than almost any insult that can be applied to other racial groups. There is no equivalent slur in the English language," Gribben writes in an editor's foreword.
But the publication set for February 15 has prompted an avalanche of criticism from people complaining about changes to the text, said Suzanne LaRosa, spokeswoman for publisher New South Books.
Dozens of people have telephoned and hundreds have sent emails of complaint.
"We are not fans of changing Mark Twain's words," said Cindy Lovell, executive director of The Mark Twain Boyhood Home and Museum in Hannibal, Missouri.
"They have stood the test of time. The book is an anti-racist book and to change the language changes the power of the book. He wrote to make us squirm and to poke us with a sharp stick. That was the purpose," Lovell said.
Huckleberry Finn, a satire of social attitudes in the South during slavery, is considered one of the greatest American novels. It tells the story of a boy's journey down the Mississippi River.
Gribben will jointly reissue another Twain classic, "The Adventures of Tom Sawyer" with epithets also deleted.
Reporting by Verna Gates; Editing by Matthew Bigg and Jerry Norton