The rewriting of Roald Dahl books first made headlines and drew a backlash. That was followed by the censorship of James Bond novels. But what was seen as a few isolated incidents with very high-profile works is actually just the new normal. At least when it comes to reprints of older books.
I initially analyzed this as a response to major IPs like Dahl and Bond with hundreds of millions of dollars at stake, but that’s no longer the case.
Here are two more incidents. One involving the children’s Goosebumps books.
The 79-year-old horror author spoke up after The Times of London claimed that he had “censored over a dozen of his books” to avoid mentions of race or calling characters fat or crazy.
Mentions of slaves were also removed, as well as black face worn by a character dressed as “a dark and stormy night” for Halloween.
Characters were no longer “roly-poly,” and “plump” ones were described as now “cheerful.” Characters Stine called “overweight” are now merely “huge” and one with “at least six chins” is now “at least six feet six.”
A line about schoolgirls having “crushes” on their headmaster was cut, and a boy who wolf-whistled now merely “whistled loudly,” the UK Times noted. Something dismissed as “girl’s stuff” is now just “not interesting.”
The Goosebumps incident is thus far unique because the author is alive and his work was censored without anyone actually checking with him. I don’t know what the legal situation is, but seemingly Scholastic is empowered to re-edit books however it pleases even after they’ve been in publication.
Then there’s this incident.
As Ursula’s literary executor, I recently faced a similar decision. My mother, known for her young adult and adult novels, also wrote several children’s books. A multigenerational fan base has kept her Catwings books in print in the US since the 1980s. I was excited to move the books to a new publisher last year.
As we began work on the new editions, I received an unexpected note from the editor: “I’m writing to propose several minor changes to the language… to remove words that now have a different connotation than when the books were originally published.” The words in question were “lame,” “queer,” “dumb,” and “stupid,” a total of seven instances across three books.
This has happened across different publishers and different countries so it’s a safe bet that this is the ‘new normal’ and that editors, at least at major publishers, and particularly with children’s books, have their marching orders to censor books under the guise of anti-racism or some similar framework.
The Roald Dahl incident involved a Bertelsmann subsidiary. Catwings appears to be Simon and Schuster, which Bertelsmann tried to take over and gut, but the DOJ shut down the takeover. That’s two of the big five publishers. Goosebumps is Scholastic.
The book-burning epidemic has spread to at least two of the big five and who knows how many smaller publishers.
The backlash from liberals has been gratifying, but in a cage match between lefties and liberals, it’s hardly ever worth betting on the non-murderous fanatics who don’t want to destroy your life and crush underfoot.
But we’ll see.