Roald Dahl died in 1990 but his stories live on in the more than 250 million copies of his books that have been sold worldwide. “Matilda” and “Charlie and the Chocolate Factory” are two of the popular films based on his books.
Now the Roald Dahl Story company is publishing new editions in partnership with “sensitivity readers” (aka language censors) so the books are “inclusive and accessible.” The company claims the changes made — focused on gender, race, weight, mental health, and violence — were small and carefully considered. It turns out there are actually hundreds of changes. Author Salmon Rushdie accurately calls it “absurd censorship.”
For example, the greedy child of Gustus Gloop in “Charlie and the Chocolate Factory” is now enormous rather than fat. Willy Wonka's Oompa Loompa workers are now gender neutral, small people replaces small men. Wonderful parents become wonderful family. The same happened to the mysterious figures living in the sky, the Cloud-Men, in "James and the Giant Peach.” They are now Cloud-People. Weird is deleted to describe the African language. “Chambermaid” has become “cleaner,” “You must be mad, woman!” is now “You must be out of your mind!” “The old hag” has become “the old crow.”
The main character in “Matilda “now reads Jane Austen rather than Rudyard Kipling. Why? Kipling is evidently associated with colonialism.
The edits are not just new words but often deletions. For instance, in “Charlie and the Chocolate Factory,” “Mike Teavee himself had no less than eighteen toy pistols of various sizes hanging from belts around his body, and every now and again he would leap up into the air and fire off half a dozen rounds from one or another of these weapons,” was removed. The same happened with “The man behind the counter looked fat and well-fed. He had big lips and fat cheeks and a very fat neck.” There are numerous examples of excisions in all Dahl’s books.
This is not the first time Dahl’s work has been in the center of a controversy. A couple of years ago, Warner Brothers apologized after backlash from the disability community over the depiction of Anne Hathaway’s character based on Dahl’s The Witches. Hathaway’s evil character, the Grand Witch, had missing fingers from each hand. That was the same year, 2020, that the Dahl family apologized for antisemitic remarks made by Dahl in 1983 and 1990 interviews.
Words matter. The problem is that the Dahl sensitivity censorship sets a template for other hugely successful author franchises. Readers should know that the words they read are no longer the words the author wrote.
In its essence, this is one more example of a core problem that now pervades society; the negation of reality. It manifests itself all over; in literature, in history, in politics, in economics, even in science; objective reality gives way to the subjective. But eventually, reality catches up with those who negate it.
I can’t wait for the new edition of “Fahrenheit 451” in which the firepersons are depicted as heroes for conducting flaming bonfires of far-right–wing extremist racist antivaxxer misinformation.
And then we can enjoy a romp through Room 101 with the beloved O’Brien graciously instructing Winston in New Normal Math.