Many authors, including Booker Prize winner Salman Rushdie, reacted angrily to the discovery that changes had been made to the works of best-selling children’s novelist Roald Dahl, calling the revisions “absurd censorship.” The author of figures like Matilda, the BFG, Fantastic Mr. Fox, Willy Wonka, and the Twits, Dahl, passed away in 1990 at 76.
More than 300 million copies of his books have been sold and translated into 63 languages. His works have also been widely adapted on both big and small screens. Although the author has a lengthy history of controversy, his estate issued an official apology for any antisemitic remarks he may have made in the past in 2020.
It has just come to light that the current Puffin copies of his novels include the following text at the foot of the copyright page: “Words have power. Roald Dahl’s excellent writing may take you to new realms and expose you to the most amazing characters. Although this book was written many years ago, we routinely check the wording to ensure everyone may still enjoy it today.”
A group 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,” worked on these revisions with the help of “sensitivity readers.”
The British publication The Daily Telegraph stated that it had discovered hundreds of modifications throughout the author’s several children’s books in a comprehensive study published on Saturday.
The terminology about gender, ethnicity, weight, mental health, and violence had been deleted or changed, according to a close examination by its journalists. As part of this, descriptions that used the colors black and white, as well as adjectives like “fat” and “ugly,” were eliminated.
Journalists researching the story identified 59 modifications in just “The Witches” and hundreds more in Dahl’s other well-known works like “Charlie and the Chocolate Factory” and “Matilda.”
In collaboration with the late author’s estate, Rushdie tweeted on Saturday to express his disagreement with the Puffin move. “Even though Roald Dahl wasn’t perfect, this censorship is ludicrous. The Dahl estate and Puffin Books should be ashamed, “Rushdie tweeted.
Roald Dahl was no angel but this is absurd censorship. Puffin Books and the Dahl estate should be ashamed. https://t.co/sdjMfBr7WW
— Salman Rushdie (@SalmanRushdie) February 18, 2023
Rushdie, 75, is not new to the censorship controversy. Following the publication of his book “The Satanic Verses” in 1988, the then-leader of Iran, Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini, issued a fatwa demanding his execution. After being assaulted at a lecture in New York last year, the Indian-born novelist lost vision in one eye.
Even Rishi Sunak
, the British Prime Minister, has now weighed in on the Dahl debate and spoken out against the decision to update the books.
Sunak’s spokeswoman used Dahl’s language while responding to whether it is appropriate to censor children’s books, saying: “When it comes to our rich and varied literary legacy, the Prime Minister agrees with the BFG that you shouldn’t “gobble-funk around with words.”
The representative continued, “We’ve always backed the freedom to free speech and expression,” adding that “works of art and fiction must be maintained and not whitewashed.”
The CEO of PEN America, a group of authors who defend free speech, Suzanne Nossel, reacted fiercely to reports of the alterations on social media.
She said the group was “alarmed” by the revisions, which were done in “a stated effort to scrub the books of that which might offend someone,” in a series of 13 tweets.
At @PENamerica we are alarmed at news of “hundreds of changes” to venerated works by @roald_dahl in a purported effort to scrub the books of that which might offend someone. 1/13 https://t.co/IXOkIaXYmt
— Suzanne Nossel (@SuzanneNossel) February 18, 2023
The renowned author of the epic fantasy novel “His Dark Materials,” Philip Pullman, responded to the news slightly differently. On Monday, he stated on BBC Radio 4’s “Today” show that Dahl’s works should be allowed to “fade away” despite not endorsing the revisions.
Whatever modifications might be made now, he emphasized that millions of older copies are still being used in classrooms, libraries, secondhand shops, and other places.