February 22, 2023

Roald Dahl

“New editions of legendary works by British author Roald Dahl are being edited to remove words that could be deemed offensive to some readers, according to the late writer's company… British newspaper The Telegraph first reported that the publisher of Dahl's books, Puffin, made hundreds of changes to original texts of the author's well-known children's books… The Roald Dahl Story Company told The Associated Press that it worked with Puffin to review the books out of a desire to ensure ‘Dahl's wonderful stories and characters continue to be enjoyed by all children today.’” NPR

Many on all sides criticize the changes:

“Puffin functionaries and hired ‘sensitivity readers’ have combed through Dahl’s works for children—including whizbang novels such as ‘Matilda,’ ‘The Twits,’ and ‘James and the Giant Peach’—and cut all references to fatness, craziness, ugliness, whiteness (even of bedsheets), blackness (even of tractors) and the great Rudyard Kipling, along with any allusion to acts lacking full and enthusiastic consent. Some male characters have been made female; female villains have been made less nasty; women in general have been socially elevated; while mothers and fathers, boys and girls have dwindled into sexless ‘parents’ and ‘children.’…

“Many of the edits reveal a total failure to understand why children love the spiky and opinionated British writer and why they gobble his stories as fast as his porcine characters eat sweets. Dahl’s writing flashes with menace and tenderness; it’s funny, exciting and unpredictable. Like all the most enduring stories for children, Dahl’s are odd and original. They stir the mind, disquiet the spirit, and stimulate the imagination… ​​Stripping away the weirdness expunges the magic.”
Meghan Cox Gurdon, Wall Street Journal

“Is some of Dahl’s writing offensive? Sure, if you’re wired that way. But who cares? In free cultures, writers are permitted to be offensive, colorful, and even ‘grotesque’ without worrying that such choices will lead to exhumation…

“And here’s the other thing: Objectively, the changes are crap. Where before, The Witches read, ‘‘Don’t be foolish,’ my grandmother said. ‘You can’t go round pulling the hair of every lady you meet, even if she is wearing gloves. Just you try it and see what happens,’’ now it reads, ‘‘Don’t be foolish,’ my grandmother said. ‘There are plenty of other reasons why women might wear wigs and there is certainly nothing wrong with that.’’… The people who have been charged with ‘improving’ Roald Dahl couldn’t write their way out of a balsa-wood outhouse.”
Charles C. W. Cooke, National Review

“In the new editions, every single use of ‘fat’ and ‘ugly’ has been removed. I see the point: We know a lot more now than a few generations ago about how children suffer when others make fun of their appearance, and how long-lasting the harm is. But I don’t know that replacing ‘fat’ with ‘enormous’ sends a different message, or that replacing ‘fat little brown mouse’ with ‘little brown mouse’ does much for the cause of kindness—doesn’t fat also suggest cute and cuddly, at least in small furry animals? The trouble is, once you start fiddling, where do you stop?…

“The Ladybug no longer blushes—I suppose blushing is too stereotypically feminine. Gone too is the passage describing the Cloud-Men’s wives frying snowballs for their supper. Well, gender-neutral Cloud-People wouldn’t have wives, would they? Certainly not ones who cooked for their men… Reality, past or present, must be tidied away, lest some child somewhere starts fuming because the fried snowballs aren’t on the table promptly at six o’clock now that Mom has a job… Each of these changes might seem small enough, but if you add them up, what you have is a weaker, duller, blander text.”
Katha Pollitt, The Nation

"One of the inadvertently funniest amendments is a passage in Charlie and the Chocolate Factory, which once explained how the Oompa-Loompas—whom Dahl originally wrote specifically as African ‘pygmies’—had come to work for Willy Wonka. ‘It was easy,’ the deranged capitalist inventor used to say. ‘I smuggled them over in large packing cases with holes in them.’ In the newly sanitized version, Wonka instead tells his audience that the Oompa-Loompas were volunteers and ‘they’ve told me they love it here.’…

“Yes, the sensitivity readers have somehow re-created a classic trope from colonial literature: If these slaves are unhappy, why are they singing all the time? Thank you for the clarification, Mr. Wonka, and now perhaps your PR firm could explain why the Oompa-Loompas aren’t allowed to leave the factory… Given the zeal with which the American right is currently targeting books such as The Handmaid’s Tale, the cultural left should be extremely cautious about championing the censorship of literature.”
Helen Lewis, The Atlantic

“These are private companies, of course: Publishers making business decisions. If they really think they'll sell more Dahls and Seusses this way, they're free to proceed. But maybe the publishers should think harder about whether a small handful of activists really speak for the book-reading masses. As Kat Rosenfield has observed, ‘Sensitivity readers are the new literary gatekeepers’ and ‘reflect an obsession with policing language in service of a hypothetical person who is not only maximally sensitive but also not very smart.’”
Robby Soave, Reason

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