Publishers have meticulously scrubbed recent U.K. editions of Roald Dahl’s classic children’s stories to nix language readers might find offensive, The Telegraph reported Friday.
“Hang on to your old children’s books, everyone! Dr. Seuss was only the beginning,” Wall Street Journal’s book critic Meghan Cox Gurdon tweeted Saturday afternoon.
Gurdon, who wrote “The Enchanted Hour: The Miraculous Power of Reading Aloud in the Age of Distraction,” was responding to The Telegraph’s piece detailing a lengthy list of changes to the 2022 Puffin editions of many of Dahl’s works.
Dahl’s body of work includes “Charlie and the Chocolate Factory,” “Matilda,” “James and the Giant Peach,” “The Witches,” “The Twits,” “The BFG,” “Fantastic Mr. Fox,” and more. They are children’s literature classics from one of the world’s greatest storytellers.
“Dahl is only a prominent example of a growing trend in children’s publishing for content that nobody can find offensive,” wrote Ed Cumming, Genevieve Holl-Allen, and Benedict Smith in Friday’s well-researched piece.
The authors documented literally hundreds of changes to Dahl’s books. These changes render the classic tales no longer uniquely Dahl’s, some would argue. Rather, they have become Dahl-esque narratives that substitute the “contemporary sensibilities” of his publishers for Dahl’s own.
Those contemporary sensibilities, in Dahl’s case, meant language changes around “weight, mental health, violence, gender, and race.” Some passages have been re-written to such an extent that they alter what Dahl clearly intended to convey.
For example, a mention of Rudyard Kipling has been swapped for Jane Austen in “Matilda.” In “The Witches” a passage that formerly read “‘Here’s your little boy,’ she said. ‘He needs to go on a diet.'” now only says “Here’s your little boy.”
Illustrations accompanying Dahl’s work were also subjected to sensitivity readers’ chopping blocks. Sketches of character Mike Teavee of “Charlie and the Chocolate Factory” previously included toy pistols hanging from his belts. In today’s version, the pretend firearms are no longer included in the illustrations, nor in the text, The Telegraph observed.
Dahl’s greatness in storytelling, of course, does not negate the fact that he made egregious antisemitic comments. This sad, inescapable fact has been long acknowledged, and his family apologized for it years ago in a brief statement that is still available on Dahl’s website.
“The Dahl family and the Roald Dahl Story Company deeply apologise for the lasting and understandable hurt caused by Roald Dahl’s antisemitic statements. Those prejudiced remarks are incomprehensible to us and stand in marked contrast to the man we knew and to the values at the heart of Roald Dahl’s stories, which have positively impacted young people for generations,” the family’s 2020 statement issued 30 years after Dahl’s death said.
“We hope that, just as he did at his best, at his absolute worst, Roald Dahl can help remind us of the lasting impact of words,” the statement concludes.
Though some of the contemporary edits to Dahl’s body of work addressed the heinous antisemitism, many of the changes related to other matters. There was a notable emphasis, it seems, on changing passages that reference women, for example.
“What’s next: sanitizing Mark Twain? Aristotle? Many of Dahl’s books were written 50-60 years ago,” California-based Lee Wardlaw, author of 30 books for young readers told BlazeMedia.
“Let kids read what they want to read today. If they have issues with the language, they can stop reading the books…or they can discuss them with their teachers or parents or fellow students,” Wardlaw added
“I am sure there is a lot of guilt and shame in that family. [Dahl] was an anti-semite, and although he apologized years later, and so did his family, there is still a stain on his name from his remarks,” Wardlaw concluded.
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