Editorial Comments on Dahl’s “The Witches” (by J. A. McKay & J. Vlasov)
It said: “We want to ensure that Roald Dahl’s wonderful stories and characters continue to be enjoyed by all children today. When publishing new books, it is not unusual to review the language used as well as other details of the book. Our main priority has been to maintain the original spirit of the text, and in particular the characters and storylines. Any changes made have been small and carefully considered.”
Dahl, who died in 1990 at age 76, was the creator of characters such as Matilda, the BFG, Fantastic Mr. Fox, Willy Wonka and the Twits. His books have sold more than 300 million copies and have been translated into 63 languages, while there have been numerous adaptations of his work for both the big and small screens.
However, the author has long been regarded as controversial and in 2020 his estate officially apologized for antisemitic comments made during his lifetime.
These revisions have been worked on by “sensitivity readers” from an organization called Inclusive Minds , which describes itself as “a collective for people who are passionate about inclusion, diversity, equality and accessibility in children’s literature, and are committed to changing the face of children’s books.”
The Daily Telegraph revealed on Saturday that it had found hundreds of changes to the author’s books. Close analysis by its journalists revealed that language relating to gender, race, weight, mental health and violence had been cut or rewritten. Words like “fat” and “ugly” as well as descriptions that used black and white were removed.
Journalists working on a piece found numerous changes to “The Witches” in alone, with hundreds more found in other books by the author.
Rushdie’s death and the role of “fat” characters in The Satanic Verses, a reactionary press briefing by Sunak
Rushdie is, of course, known for being a target for his own work. He spent years in hiding after Iran’s Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini called for his death after publishing his novel The Satanic Verses, which some Muslims consider blasphemous. Rushdie was stabbed in August and lost vision in one eye and has nerve damage.
When asked at a press briefing on Monday whether it is right to censor children’s books, Sunak’s spokesperson employed Dahl’s own terminology, saying: “When it comes to our rich and varied literary heritage, the Prime Minister agrees with the BFG that you shouldn’t ‘gobblefunk around with words.'”
“We’ve always defended the right to free speech and expression, and we want to ensure that works of literature and fiction are preserved and not altered,” the spokesman said.
Puffin and The Roald Dahl Story Company, which manages the copyrights of Dahl’s books and works with publishers, didn’t respond to NPR’s requests for comment.
She said the organization was alarmed by the changes and that they were supposed to scrub the books that might offend someone.
If we begin to correct for perceived slights instead of allowing readers to get to know books as written, we would be in danger of degrading the essential lens that literature offers on society.
Millions of older editions are sold in schools, libraries, second-hand stores and elsewhere.
The character Augustus Gloop in Charlie and the Chocolate Factory is no longer called “fat.” He was described as being “enormous” by The Telegraph.
The Roald Dahl Classic Collection: A Dark Side of “The Witches” (and Other) Miserable Novels at Penguin Random House Children’s
Language not written by the author is added to the books. In his 1983 book The Witches, he writes that witches are bald beneath their wigs. There are plenty of other reasons why a woman might wear a wig, and there is certainly nothing wrong with that, said an added line in new editions.
For people who do not want to see variations of these wonderful novels, Penguin Random House Children’s in the UK has the new TheRoald Dahl Classic Collection. It’s described as 17 titles that “will sit alongside the newly released Puffin Roald Dahl books for young readers, which are designed for children who may be navigating written content independently for the first time.”
This week’s debate and the subsequent outcome is “heartening” for Suzanne Nossel, CEO of PEN America. “One thing that was striking about this debate over the last week is that there is a fair amount of unity, not total unity, but a fair amount of consensus that yeah, this is not the right answer to the prospect of being offended,” Nossel tells NPR. “People would rather deal with the work in its original, have to contextualize it, have to explain to their kids, you know, maybe even feel a little bit affronted, then have someone come in and scrub away anything that people might object to.”
The appeal of his books are partly due to his mischievous, mean-spiritedness. Words such as “horsey face” and “idiots” could be considered the least of his offenses.