The news has rumbled through Giant Country that Puffin has been editing out words like “fat,” “crazy,” and “ugly” from new editions of Roald Dahl’s works.
The Daily Telegraph reported that some of the changes achieved a more gender-neutral feel—boys and girls have become “children,” mothers and fathers simply “parents”—while the red pen has had a more elemental effect on the positioning of negative female stereotypes. Matilda’s Ms. Trunchbull, once a “most formidable female,” is now a “most formidable woman.” Fantastic Mr. Fox now has three daughters, rather than three sons. Double chins have been excised, and text describing Dahl’s infamous witches as bald beneath their wigs is now appended with the very smooth, not-all-conspicuous line:
There are plenty of other reasons why women might wear wigs and there is certainly nothing wrong with that.
His Dark Materials author Philip Pullman feels generally lukewarm on the project, telling BBC 4, “If it does offend us, let him go out of print.” Rather than fuss with newly gender-neutral (yet enslaved) oompa loompas, he recommended people diversify their intake of contemporaries:
Read Phil Earle, SF Said, Frances Hardinge, Michael Morpurgo, Malorie Blackman. Read Mini Grey, Helen Cooper, Jaqueline Wilson, Beverley Naidoo. Read all these 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.
Salman Rushdie was more critical of the project, writing on Twitter: “Roald Dahl was no angel but this is absurd censorship. Puffin Books and the Dahl estate should be ashamed.”
These edits, indeed, come late in the game, but it is worth noting that the legacy of Roald Dahl was shaped in no small part by his publisher, who sanded off the crueler and more amoral edges of his children’s fiction. Writing for the London Review of Books in 2022, Colin Burrows noted:
It was a publisher’s masterstroke to use Quentin Blake as Dahl’s main illustrator from 1978 onwards, since Blake’s spiky-scrawly but underlyingly happy pen and wash drawings make you believe that Dahl’s characters are similarly rough around the edges with an anarchic heart of gold.
“His key skill was his ability to repress nastiness while keeping it visible,” says Burrows, a point that children who begged to be read some of Dahl’s Revolting Rhymes at bedtime understood.
Why fuss with it now? You might ask. Well, Dahl’s estate was acquired by Netflix in 2021. Taika Waititi is on board to produce a series based on Charlie and the Chocolate Factory and to adapt the musical adaptation of Matilda into something else once more. Some of the changes have come from hired sensitivity readers, who must have felt like they were tasked with line-editing Paradise Lost.
What is a Roald Dahl book without the terror and inhumanity? Some would say simply not the same.
[h/t The Independent]