Top critical review
Not the original text.
on 25 August 2016
I write here to warn you, not of the content of this wonderful adventure story which I have read and re-read in the 50-odd years since first I encountered it but rather to warn you away from this version. Prester John was written at a time when vocabulary was not constrained by political correctness and indeed, when words now found offensive were not then found to be so. On about the second page of the book, one of the main characters is vaguely introduced and being a black man, he is described by one of the small boys of the story using the "n" word. (I can't actually use the word here because Amazon have algorithms that will spot anything vaguely offensive).
In those days, when Buchan wrote this book, the "n" word was the vernacular in most of Britain used to describe black people and indeed my grandmother used the word without shame or without any particular undertow of racism simply to describe black people. When I say 'without any particular undertow of racism', I mean that the expression was no more derogatory than any other word used to describe certain foreigners. "Frogs" might be a good example: not very flattering but nevertheless not particularly racist either, just a word used to describe foreign people, all of whom, back then, were viewed with a certain amount of suspicion.
Of course, in recent years the "n" word has come, largely by its use in the southern states of America, to acquire a distinct and deliberately racist measure and should rightly be avoided. But are we now to have ALL of our classic literature edited so that it contains nothing that might be wildly construed as being offensive to somebody somewhere? Is The Merchant of Venice to be wholly rewritten because certain passages speak in a less than flattering manner of Jews? We could be left with no original text that hasn't been expunged of anything that in a panic the PC elite presume to be offensive to somebody somewhere. Civilisation will become like Nazi Germany or Soviet Russia where we are allowed to read only those words that the elite find to their liking.
I only had to read as far as the second page to discover that the "n" word had been replaced here by "nagger". What on earth was this supposed to achieve? Would any of my black friends be left wondering whether this black man in the story, a central and very noble character, was an African man given over to persistent criticism? No, they'd see through it and be all the more offended for having been patronised.
I can't bear to think that having been offended by this censorship I'd have to read through this wonderful story nervous in case I find other, even worse (in the sense of inept) cases of editing the language to suit some nebulous (almost certainly white) creature of instant offence on others behalf.
I'll be sending it back and ordering a version that hasn't had the red pen of moral stupidity through it.