People, publishers speaking out against 'insane' censorship of Roald Dahl

"Roald Dahl was no angel but this is absurd censorship.  Puffin Books and the Dahl estate should be ashamed," tweeted American-British-Indian novelist Salman Rushdie in response to  chief executive officer of free expression group PEN America Suzanne Nossel, who said the group is "alarmed"  at hundred of changes to venerated works by Roald Dahl "in a purported effort to scrub the books of that which might offend someone."

As the Daily Telegraph first reported, "language related to weight, mental health, violence, gender and race has been cut and rewritten."  For instance, the word "fat" has been cut from every new edition of relevant books, while the word "ugly" has also been culled.  As a result, Augustus Gloop in Charlie and the Chocolate Factory is now described as "enormous" (instead of "enormously fat"), while in The Twits, Mrs. Twit is no longer "ugly and beastly" but just "beastly."  In addition to numerous changes made to the original text, some passages not written by Dahl have been added.  In The Witches, a passage explaining that witches in the book are bald beneath their wigs now includes a line that reads: "There are plenty of other reasons why women might wear wigs and there is certainly nothing wrong with that."

A spokesperson for the Roald Dahl Story Company told Variety:

We want to ensure that Roald Dahl's wonderful stories and characters continue to be enjoyed by all children today. When publishing new print runs of books written years ago, it's not unusual to review the language used alongside updating other details including a book's cover and page layout. Our guiding principle throughout has been to maintain the storylines, characters, and the irreverence and sharp-edged spirit of the original text. Any changes made have been small and carefully considered. 

As part of our process to review the language used we worked in partnership with Inclusive Minds, a collective for people who are passionate about inclusion and accessibility in children's literature. The current review began in 2020, before Dahl was acquired by Netflix. It was led by Puffin and Roald Dahl Story Company together.

As it was predictable, the decision sparked immediate pushback, with British prime minister Rishi Sunak speaking out against the changes. Borrowing a word Dahl invented for playing with language, the P.M.'s spokesman said: "When it comes to our rich and varied literary heritage, the Prime Minister agrees with the BFG that we shouldn't gobblefunk around with words."

Others, such as poet and author Debjani Chatterjee, considered the move a good thing.  His Dark Materials author Philip Pullman went one step farther and suggested Dahl's work "should be allowed to fade away" and be replaced by more modern children's writers.  He told BBC Radio 4 that people should instead explore writers such as Malorie Blackman, Michael Morpurgo, and Beverley Naidoo.  "Read all of these wonderful authors who are writing today, who don't get as much of a look-in because of the massive commercial gravity of people like Roald Dahl."

What was less predictable was that the Queen Consort, Camilla, waded into the row over the decision by the publisher of Roald Dahl's classic works and the Dahl estate, urging authors to resist curbs on their "freedom of expression."  While she did not reference Roald Dahl directly, it is understood that the current debate over the decision by publisher Puffin was very much in Camilla's mind.  Speaking at a Clarence House reception to mark the second anniversary of her popular Instagram and online book club, Camilla told assembled writers: "Please remain true to your calling, unimpeded by those who may wish to curb the freedom of your expression or impose limits on your imagination."

What's more, 98 percent of MailOnline readers demanded that the works be kept in their original form, and some parents said that they will be boycotting the updated novels, as the changes were branded as "absolutely insane," with one saying, "If you're that easily offended, then stay at home wrapped in bubble wrap."

Outside the U.K., a spokesperson for Dahl's U.S. publisher, Penguin Young Readers, told Publishers Weekly that there are no plans for similar revisions in the U.S.  "Roald Dahl books published by Penguin Young Readers and distributed in the U.S. are the editions that have existed for years and do not reflect the recent editorial changes made in U.K. editions.  Penguin Young Readers regularly reviews its backlist and Dahl titles will be reviewed accordingly."  Likewise, Roald Dahl's French publisher, Gallimard, said it does not intend to change the texts of Dahl's children's books.  "This rewrite is only about Britain.  We have never modified Roald Dahl's texts, and to date it is not in the pipeline," a spokeswoman for Gallimard Youth told AFP on Tuesday.  Dahl's Dutch publisher, De Fonte, also declined to make changes at this time.  A spokesperson for De Fonte is quoted as saying that altering the text would cause the stories to "lose their power."

All things considered, one would think that this latest "woke" assault to common sense and freedom of expression is turning against those who launched it.  They took things too far.  And not just this time, but every time.

Samuel Robert Piccoli is a blogger and the author of the books Being Conservative from A to Z (2014) and Blessed Are the Free in Spirit (2021).  He lives in the Venice area.

Image via Pixabay.

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