- Lifestyle & Sports
- 20 Feb 23
Hundreds of changes across the British author's works made by Puffin and The Roald Dahl Story Company in collaboration with Inclusive Minds to rework the classic children's books for more "sensitive" readers are met with outcries about censorship.
A staple of any childhood, Roald Dahl's works have been read by children worldwide. The fantastical stories are well-known and well-beloved in any of their iterations, whether it be their original literary edition or in their cinematic forms.
Now, the stories will be slightly edited.
The Telegraph reported the changes in Puffin's recent editions of Roald Dahl's books. A note about the alterations was found in the copyright pages of the acclaimed British author's works, announced without fanfare.
"Words matter," the notice on the copyright page begins. "The wonderful words of Roald Dahl can transport you to different worlds and introduce you to the most marvellous characters. This book was written many years ago, and so we regularly review the language to ensure that it can continue to be enjoyed by all today."
The review of content began before 2021, when The Roald Dahl Story Company was bought by Netflix, who recently produced the Roald Dahl's Matilda the Musical. The Roald Dahl Story Company retains control over the rights to the books.
The change was led by both the Puffin and the Roald Dahl Story Company, they conferred with Inclusive Minds, a collective "passionate about inclusion, diversity, equality, and accessibility in children's literature."
Inclusive minds is "committed to changing the face of children's books." They say that all changes were "small and carefully considered."
Reportedly, anything regarding weight, mental health, violence, gender, and race has been altered to cater to a more "sensitive" audience.
The removal of "fat" and "ugly" meant to promote body-positivity and the lack of the word "crazy" meant to be accommodating of those that struggle with mental health.
Even in the novel The Twits, whose title characters are originally noted to be ugly as a result of their horrible personalities and terrible cruelty, are no longer described as such. The lesson that "a person who has good thoughts cannot ever be ugly," seems a little diminished now.
“A person who has good thoughts cannot ever be ugly.”
Roald Dahl - ‘The Twits’ (1980) pic.twitter.com/8q54lJvlLh
— Michael Warburton (@MichaelWarbur17) February 20, 2023
Words haven't just been removed, though. Passages have been added in order to further appeal to audiences in a newer time.
In the 1983 novel The Witches, the evil and ugly witches that hunt children are bald and wear wigs as a part of their disguises as ordinary women. Now, the edits lose the sharp personality of Dahl's writing and characters alike:
"You can't go round pulling the hair of every lady you meet, even if she is wearing gloves. Just you try and see what happens" has become "there are plenty of other reasons why women might wear wigs and there is certainly nothing wrong with that."
— Incunabula (@incunabula) February 18, 2023
Some of the changes are almost arbitrary, changing "boys and girls" to "children" and, in James and the Giant Peach rewriting "Cloud-Men" to "Cloud-People." Even the words "black" and "white" have been removed, even if only describing the physical appearance of the tractors in The Fantastic Mr. Fox.
The decision, and the hundreds of edits made to the classics, has been met with massive amounts of backlash from literary critic, author, and fan alike.
Suzanne Nossel, author and CEO for PEN America, an organisation of over 7,000 writers devoted to preserving freedom of expression worldwide, tweeted a thread detailing the harm Puffin's censorship enables and the precedent it could risk setting.
"The problem with taking license to re-edit classic works is that there is no limiting principle," Nossel continues. "You start out wanting to replace a word here and a word there, and end up inserting entirely new ideas (as has been done to Dahl's work)."
Literature is meant to be surprising and provocative. That's part of its potency. By setting out to remove any reference that might cause offense you dilute the power of storytelling. 7/13
— Suzanne Nossel (@SuzanneNossel) February 18, 2023
"Better than playing around with these texts is to offer introductory context that prepares people for what they are about to read, and helps them understand the setting in which it was written."
Many acknowledge the controversial aspects of the late author in modern era. Since his death, his family has released a statement apologising for some of his views and comments over the years. Even when he was alive, the British author faced controversy: he rewrote the description of the Oompa-Loompas in Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory himself soon after the first edition was published.
Author Phillip Pullman advocates for letting the Dahl stories go out of print instead of changing the stories. The books were of a different time and should be regarded as such - it's not like they would disappear overnight or be erased from public consciousness immediately.
"All these words are still there, are you going to round up all the books and cross them out with a big black pen?"
Pullman suggests that children can instead read modern works if works considerate of modern sensitivities are desired.
"Read all of those 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."
A list of all the alterations made to Roald Dahl's catalogue is available on The Telegraph's website.
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