Rewriting Roald Dahl's work: What, why, how and the story behind it

Dahl has long been called out for his antisemitic views, but the recent changes have been criticised on two grounds, one, the extent of the changes and two, the nature of the changes

Raghav Aggarwal New Delhi
Roald Dahl

Roald Dahl (Source: Wikimedia Commons)

The news of changes being made to the works of Roald Dahl, one of the best-selling children's authors, has been met with criticism from writers, politicians, and publishers. Salman Rushdie called it "absurd censorship". Britain's Prime Minister Rishi Sunak said we should not "gobblefunk" around with the words.
Dahl's works like Matilda, Charlie and the Chocolate Factory, The BFG and Fantastic Mr Fox have sold around 300 million copies and have been translated into 68 languages.

What is being changed in Roald Dahl's books?
Puffin Books, a division of Penguin Random House, is making changes to Dahl's work. An organisation called Inclusive Minds and the author's estate, the Roald Dahl Story Company, are working with Puffin. According to a report by CNN, the review began in 2020.

"We want to ensure that Roald Dahl's wonderful stories and characters continue to be enjoyed by all children today. When publishing new print runs of books written years ago, it's not unusual to review the language used alongside updating other details including a book's cover and page layout. Our guiding principle throughout has been to maintain the storylines, characters, and irreverence and sharp-edged spirit of the original text. Any changes made have been small and carefully considered," the Roald Dahl Story Company told CNN.
Dahl has long been criticised for his antisemitic views, but the recent changes to his text have been criticised on two grounds: the extent of the changes and the nature of the changes.

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According to The Telegraph, Augustus Gloop's description has been changed from "enormously fat" to "enormous".
In The Witches, the text read that a witch could be posing as a woman who "is working as a cashier in a supermarket or typing letters for a businessman". It has now been changed to a woman who "may be working as a top scientist or running a business".

The Earthworm from James and the Giant Peach no longer has "lovely pink" skin. It now has "lovely smooth skin". In the same book, Aunt Sponge no longer has "fat arms". She just has "arms".
According to The Daily Telegraph, hundreds of changes have been made to Dahl's books. In fact, 59 changes have been made to The Witches alone.

Rushdie took to Twitter and said, "Roald Dahl was no angel but this is absurd censorship. Puffin Books and the Dahl estate should be ashamed".
Not the first time for Dahl

This is not the first time that changes have been made to Dahl's work. Dahl himself had changed the description of Oompa-Loompas of Charlie and the Chocolate Factory to remove the African features and "de-Negro" them. In the 1964 edition of the book, Oompa-Loompas were "black pygmies". In the 1973 edition, they were "little fantasy creatures".
However, this is the first time since Dahl's death in 1990 that changes are being made to his books. 

Others like Dahl
Dahl is not the only author who has faced criticism for racism and sexism.

Enid Blyton, the writer of The Famous Five and Secret Seven, is often criticised for her racist and patriarchal depiction of characters.
Rudyard Kipling has often faced criticism for his poem, The White Man's Burden.

Belgian writer Georges Remi has been criticised for racism in his The Adventures of Tintin.
More recently, JK Rowling, author of the Harry Potter series, has been criticised for her white, straight characters. She has responded to it by saying that Albus Dumbledore was gay and that a Black actor could be Hermoine Granger.

First Published: Feb 21 2023 | 12:06 PM IST

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