Critics reject changes to Roald Dahl books like ‘Charlie and the Chocolate Factory,’ ‘Matilda’ as censorship
LONDON– Critics have accused the British publisher of Roald Dahl’s classic children’s book of censorship after removing colorful language from works like ‘Charlie and the Chocolate Factory’ and ‘Matilda’ to make them more acceptable to modern readers.
A review of new editions of Dahl’s books now available in bookstores shows that some passages relating to weight, mental health, gender and race have been changed. The changes, made by Puffin Books, a division of Penguin Random House, were first reported by Britain’s Daily Telegraph newspaper.
Augustus Gloop, Charlie’s gluttonous antagonist in Charlie and the Chocolate Factory, originally released in 1964, is no longer “hugely fat,” just “huge.” In the new issue of Witches, a supernatural woman posing as an ordinary woman may be working as “a top scientist or running a business” rather than “a supermarket cashier or writing letters for a businessman.”
The word “black” was removed from the description of the terrible tractors in 1970’s “The Fabulous Mr. Fox”. The machines are now just “murderous, brutal-looking monsters”.
Booker Prize-winning author Salman Rushdie was among those who reacted angrily to the paraphrase of Dahl’s words. Rushdie lived in hiding for years after Iran’s Grand Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini issued a fatwa in 1989 calling for his death for alleged blasphemy in his novel The Satanic Verses. He was attacked and seriously injured at an event in upstate New York last year.
“Roald Dahl was no angel but that is absurd censorship,” Rushdie wrote on Twitter. “Puffin Books and the Dahl Estate should be ashamed of themselves.”
The changes to Dahl’s books mark the latest skirmish in a cultural sensitivity debate in which activists seek to protect young people from cultural, ethnic and gender stereotypes in literature and other media. Critics complain that revisions that fit 21st-century sensibilities could undermine the genius of great artists and prevent readers from facing the world as it is.
The Roald Dahl Story Company, which controls the rights to the books, said it worked with Puffin to review the texts because they wanted to make sure “Dahl’s wonderful stories and characters are still enjoyed by all children today.”
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The language was reviewed in partnership with Inclusive Minds, a collective working to make children’s literature more inclusive and accessible. All changes are “small and carefully considered,” the company said.
The analysis began in 2020, before Netflix bought the Roald Dahl Story Company and began plans to produce a new generation of films based on the author’s books.
“When releasing new editions of books written years ago, it’s not uncommon to review the language used while updating other details, including a book’s cover and page layout,” the company said. “Our guiding principle was to keep the storylines, characters and the irreverence and hard-edged spirit of the original text.”
Puffin did not immediately respond to requests for comment.
Dahl died in 1990 at the age of 74. His books, which have sold more than 300 million copies, have been translated into 68 languages and are still read by children around the world.
But he’s also a controversial figure for anti-Semitic statements he’s made throughout his life.
The Dahl family issued an apology in 2020, saying they acknowledge the “enduring and understandable pain caused by Roald Dahl’s anti-Semitic remarks.”
Regardless of his personal flaws, fans of Dahl’s books celebrate his use of sometimes dark language that appeals to children’s fears as well as their sense of fun.
PEN America, a community of about 7,500 authors that champions free speech, said it was “alarmed” by reports of the changes to Dahl’s books.
“If we seek to correct perceived slights, rather than allowing readers to receive and respond to books as they are written, we risk distorting the work of great authors and clouding the essential lens that illuminates the literature of the Company offers,” tweeted Suzanne Nossel, CEO of PEN America.
Laura Hackett, a childhood Dahl fan and now deputy literary editor at London’s Sunday Times newspaper, responded more personally to the news.
“The editors of Puffin should be ashamed of the botched operation they have performed on some of Britain’s best children’s books,” she wrote. “As for me, I’ll be carefully storing my original old copies of Dahl’s stories so that one day my kids can enjoy them in their full, nasty, colorful glory.”
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