Police State/Civil Liberties

Fans react to publisher efforts to edit in a kinder, gentler Roald Dahl

Excerpts from the most recent editions of Dahl’s books are making the rounds online today

Giant peach. (Not pictured: James.) (Unless one of the people in this photo is named James.)
Giant peach. (Not pictured: James.) (Unless one of the people in this photo is named James.)
Photo: Matt Cardy (Getty Images)

Underneath all of the wondrous chocolate factories and champion-level pheasant killing, there’s always been a core of nastiness powering the works of beloved British author Roald Dahl. It’s at least part of why kids have gravitated to his books for decades at this point: In a world of kids’ lit where everything tends to be stultifyingly nice, Dahl was unafraid to be mean-spirited, sometimes even cruel. Sometimes that manifested in ways that were wildly out-of-step with modern (or even contemporary) mores—looking at you, original version of the Oompa-Loompas, depicted in the first editions of Charlie And The Chocolate Factory as happily enslaved African people—and at other times with a witty subversiveness that could feel like an escape hatch for child readers constantly being told to be well-behaved or nice.

Dahl’s works, and modern reactions to them, are back in the spotlight today, after The Guardian and The Daily Telegraph ran pieces in the U.K. about new versions of many of the author’s books, updated over the last year or so in response to suggestions from a crew of sensitivity readers (and with permission and endorsement from the author’s estate). From the compilations of changes that are floating around online, it looks like much of the focus by editors at Puffin was on removing certain words—“fat” and “ugly” have both been omitted from multiple works—and to push back on potential sexism. (Instances of “men” as a general noun have now been changed to “people,” and there are multiple instances of actions attributed to “Dad” or “Mom” along old-school gender lines now being attributed to both parents.)


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