Feb 19, 2023 - Politics & Policy

Roald Dahl inclusive book edits prompt criticism of “absurd censorship”

A child reads a Roald Dahl book at Roath Park Primary School in February 2021 in Cardiff, Wales. Photo: Matthew Horwood/Getty Images

Author Salman Rushdie weighed in this weekend on the decision to edit the popular children's books by Roald Dahl to make them more inclusive, calling the move "absurd censorship."

Driving the news: The Telegraph reported Friday that Dahl's publisher and the Roald Dahl Story Company made hundreds of changes to the children's books to allow them to "be enjoyed by all children today," the Washington Post reports.

  • "Roald Dahl was no angel but this is absurd censorship," Rushdie wrote on Twitter, adding that the Dahl estate and the publisher, "should be ashamed."

Among the changes, according to the Telegraph, are the removal of the word "fat," such as when it was used to describe the character of Augustus Gloop from “Charlie and the Chocolate Factory." The word "ugly" was also removed.

  • Gender-neutral language was also added to describe certain characters, such as in reference to "mothers and fathers," which is now "parents."
  • In some cases, language was also added, such as in "The Witches," in a paragraph about the witches being bald under their wigs.
  • "There are plenty of other reasons why women might wear wigs and there is certainly nothing wrong with that," a new line reads, per the Telegraph.

What they're saying: The Roald Dahl Story Company told the Post that the review of the books began in 2020.

  • "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," the company told the Post in an emailed statement.
  • Axios has reached out to the Roald Dahl Story Company for comment.

The big picture: Rushdie is a famous author who spent nearly a decade in hiding after he faced death threats and a bounty for his murder from the Iranian government in the late 1980s.

  • He was attacked last year during an event in western New York and was stabbed at least once in the neck and once in the abdomen.

Suzanne Nossel, the CEO of PEN America, a nonprofit that defends free expression, also weighed in and said PEN America is "alarmed" at the changes.

  • "Amidst fierce battles against book bans and strictures on what can be taught and read, selective editing to make works of literature conform to particular sensibilities could represent a dangerous new weapon," Nossel wrote on Twitter.
  • "Those who might cheer specific edits to Dahl's work should consider how the power to rewrite books might be used in the hands of those who do not share their values and sensibilities," she added.

Zoom out: Dahl, who died in 1990, created some of the most popular children's books. His bestselling books have sold more than 250 million copies, according to WordsRated.

  • The popular author had a controversial past, with a history of making antisemitic comments. His family in 2020 issued a statement apologizing for his antisemitism.
  • "The Dahl family and the Roald Dahl Story Company deeply apologise for the lasting and understandable hurt caused by some of Roald Dahl's statements," the comment read, per the Guardian.

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