Bowdlerizing Roald Dahl

The recent decision by publisher Puffin, in conjunction with The Roald Dahl Story Company, to make several hundred revisions to new editions of Roald Dahl’s novels is nothing short of censorship.

The changes, recommended by “sensitivity readers” – whoever or whatever the fuck “sensitivity readers” are – include removing or replacing words describing the appearance of characters, and adding gender-neutral language in places. For instance, Augustus Gloop in Charlie and the Chocolate Factory is no longer “fat” but “enormous.” Mrs Twit, from The Twits, has become “beastly” rather than “ugly and beastly.” In Matilda, the protagonist no longer reads the works of Rudyard Kipling – whose books are considered controversial – but “safe” and prudish Jane Austen. In Fantastic Mr Fox, the tractors are not “black” but “murderous, brutal-looking monsters.” Also, all references to “mothers” and “fathers” have been replaced with “parents” or “family.”

Not only have certain words (or indeed, phrases) been effaced, but additional material has also been added.

A new line has been inserted in The Witches that reads, “There are plenty of other reasons why women might wear wigs and there is certainly nothing wrong with that.”

An attempts to allay a part explaining that the witches are actually bald underneath their wigs?

Cancel culture in the literary world is not new. Dr Seuss suffered the same fate.

Why are we using today’s “standards” to judge past norms?

If we do that, the Bible – full of murder, adultery, incest, etc – should be burned, statues should be pulled down – Ceceil Rhodes and Winston Churchill were racist bigots, Chiang Kai-shek slaughtered 18,000 in 1947, while suppressing an uprising in Taipei, Gandhi slept naked with pubescent girls and Robert E Lee was a slave owner – and even Shakespeare’s works should be pulverized. His Romeo and Juliet is about a teenage couple who committed suicide! Oh my!

Michelle Smith of Monash University says though many aspects of the fictional past may not accord with the ideal version of the world we might wish to present to today’s kids, as adults we can help them to navigate that history, rather than rewriting it.

Suzanne Nossel, chief executive of Pen America, an organization that supports freedom of expression, said the organization was “alarmed” by the changes and that selective editing could “represent a dangerous new weapon.”

Do we simply rewrite classic novels every so often, with every fresh wave of groupthink outrage, scouring for thought crime until they are no longer recognizable as a product of their time or author? Or do we let them be? I’m for the latter. – Simon Dillon

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