Roald Dahl was a terrible person. (There’s a reason for the Rotten Roald nickname) And that’s even if we don’t delve into his personal life, his antisemitism or what he was doing in D.C. during WWII. As a children’s book writer, he specialized in appealing to children with images of grotesque adults while pretending to be on their side in ways that we now associate with ‘grooming’. Which is to say I’d never buy one of his books for a child, and I’m horrified that this is happening.
The Dr. Seuss censorship was bad enough, but instead of pulling books from sale, they’re rewriting them. The results feel like some sort of Orwellian parody. If Ray Bradbury were alive, he might have noted that instead of burning books, they’re destroying them in a more insidious digital fashion by taking a red pen to them and changing them over to be more politically correct.’
“Words matter,” begins the discreet notice, which sits at the bottom of the copyright page of Puffin’s latest editions of Roald Dahl’s books. “The wonderful words of Roald Dahl can transport you to different worlds and introduce you to the most marvellous characters. This book was written many years ago, and so we regularly review the language to ensure that it can continue to be enjoyed by all today.”
Regularly review the language.
As if a book is a handbook or a set of corporate slogans that are “regularly reviewed” to make sure that they’re in line with current standards.
Except that’s exactly how these sorts of people think. That’s what reducing every work to intellectual property unleashed. Now the DEI bureaucracy is going to review everything ever written and make sure that it meets current language standards. And if it doesn’t, out comes the red pen.
“Remember the Cloud-Men in James and the Giant Peach? They are now the Cloud-People. The Small Foxes in Fantastic Mr Fox are now female. In Matilda, a mention of Rudyard Kipling has been cut and Jane Austen added.”
I can’t imagine any writer who isn’t horrified by this.
“Chambermaid” becomes “cleaner”. “Great flock of ladies” becomes “great group of ladies”. “You must be mad, woman!” becomes “You must be out of your mind!” “The old hag” becomes “the old crow”.
Other alterations are about weight. “Fat little brown mouse” becomes “little brown mouse”. “‘Here’s your little boy,’ she said. ‘He needs to go on a diet’”, becomes “Here’s your little boy.”
Rather than “turning white,” a character turns “quite pale”. In James and the Giant Peach, the Cloud-Men have become Cloud-People, Miss Sponge is no longer “the fat one”, Miss Spider’s head is no longer “black” and the Earthworm no longer has “lovely pink” skin but “lovely smooth skin”.
Gender-neutral terms have been added in places – where Charlie and the Chocolate Factory’s Oompa Loompas were “small men”, they are now “small people”.
In Fantastic Mr Fox a description of tractors, saying that “the machines were both black”, has been cut. In the new Dahl world, it seems, neither machines nor animals can be described with a colour. Nor can anything be fat. “Bunce, the little pot-bellied dwarf”, is now plain old Bunce. The Small Foxes, previously sons, are now daughters, while Badger’s son has become a “little one”.
Earlier editions of Charlie and the Chocolate Factory include three sketches of Mike Teavee with 18 toy pistols “hanging from belts around his body”, but the guns have been scrubbed out by 2022, as well as a related sentence.
And there’s this masterpiece of political correctness.
In The Witches, a paragraph explaining that witches are bald beneath their wigs ends with the new line: “There are plenty of other reasons why women might wear wigs and there is certainly nothing wrong with that.
There’s a whole lot that’s wrong here.
Puffin and the Roald Dahl Story Company made the changes in conjunction with Inclusive Minds, which its spokesperson describes as “a collective for people who are passionate about inclusion and accessibility in children’s literature”.
They’re passionate about destroying other people’s work.
But really it’s the same model that has been applied to Marvel and DC comics, remaking everything to be more “inclusive.” With everything reduced to IPs, why not rewrite the original books the same way?
To the executives and hacks doing this, there’s no fundamental difference between making Captain America black or going back and rewriting classic children’s books. And then books in general. And everything else.
But there’s a substantial difference between reworking succeeding materials, like sequels, and going back in time to eliminate the original, which is what they’re doing here.
I can’t wait until Inclusive Minds have gone over George Orwell’s 1984, reviewed the language and made it more inclusive.
Instead of a Big Brother, there can be a Big Sister.