Changing Dahl’s

“The problem with the world is that the intelligent people are full of doubts, while the stupid ones are full of confidence.”

Charles Bukowski

Fragile souls have infected the American conscious.  In ongoing efforts to accommodate every type of human who could possibly exist on Earth, language is being reconstructed and new words are being created.  Thus, a new type of censorship has taken hold.  As a writer, I’m devoutly opposed to any type of literary censorship.  No matter how offensive some writings may be, people should always be allowed to read them and determine whether or not they find it palatable.  No one, but no one has the right to make those decisions for others.

But does this include editing?  Are books written years ago now subject to contemporary sensibilities?  Roald Dahl – author of such legendary children’s tomes as “Charlie and the Chocolate Factory” and “James and the Giant Peach” – has become the latest target of political correctness, as his publisher, Puffin Books, has decided to edit some of those famous works.

For example, in “Charlie and the Chocolate Factory”, the character of Augustus Gloop is no longer “fat” but now “enormous”. In “The Twits”, Mrs. Twit is no longer “ugly and beastly”; she’s just “beastly”.

Other passages have been rewritten.  In the original version of “James and the Giant Peach”, the Centipede sings: “Aunt Sponge was terrifically fat / And tremendously flabby at that,” and, “Aunt Spiker was thin as a wire / And dry as a bone, only drier.”

In the amended interpretation, he sings: “Aunt Sponge was a nasty old brute / And deserved to be squashed by the fruit,” and, “Aunt Spiker was much of the same / And deserves half of the blame.”

Even the mundane term “female” has rendered vile.  The character of Miss Trunchbull in “Matilda” – described as a “most formidable female” – has now metamorphosed into a “most formidable woman”.

In a nod to the burgeoning transgender movement, gender neutral terms are now popular.  The Oompa-Loompas in “Charlie and the Chocolate Factory” are now “small people”, instead of “small men”; while the Cloud-Men in “James and the Giant Peach” are now “Cloud-People”.


The Roald Dahl Story Company explained the alterations by declaring, “it’s not unusual to review the language” during a new print run and any changes were “small and carefully considered”.

Puffin made the changes in concert with Inclusive Minds, an entity founded in 2013 that – according to their web site – “works with the children’s book world to support them in authentic representation, primarily by connecting those in the industry with those who have lived experience of any or multiple facets of diversity.”  It’s curious that Inclusive Minds emphasizes that they “do not edit or rewrite texts, but provide book creators with valuable insight from people with the relevant lived experience that they can take into consideration in the wider process of writing and editing.”

Okay, great, wonderful!  I have no problem with inclusion.  During high school and even college, I rarely found the Spanish and Indian portions of my heritage included in literature and popular cultural formats, such as television.  I certainly didn’t see any positive representations of queer people.

But, while inclusivity is great from a cultural perspective, it’s ridiculous and personally offensive to me as a writer to see books published long ago rewritten to cater to new levels of awareness.  We can’t go back and change what happened a lifetime ago.  No matter how much someone wishes things had been different way back when, they just can’t alter the past.  They simply can’t.  Dahl was a product of his time; he said and wrote what was commonly acceptable in his day.  If you read his books and don’t like the verbiage, then don’t read them!  It’s the same with a TV show; if you don’t like it, DON’T WATCH IT!

I understand that some things are blatantly offensive.  That’s just how it is.  If we ban every book that someone finds offensive, we wouldn’t have anything to read!  Stop the madness.  It’s not going to help move society forward.


Filed under Essays

17 responses to “Changing Dahl’s

  1. Mark waters

    In fact they can go back and change the classics because they have done it. Sorry Chief!

    • Mark, yes I’m aware that some older writings have been altered; often for clarity. But at what point do we decide that some verbiage is so offensive it should be obliterated altogether and we behave as if it never existed? If we change some words to be more palatable to contemporary sensibilities or avoid it completely, then we wouldn’t have much left to read!

  2. I agree wholeheartedly. There’s a part of me that can’t help but think that they are not really editing the books to cater to children’s actual needs, or even the parents, but for the author. It’s easier to change one word for another than it is to go back and grapple with the reality that people had ugly opinions and these authors were not always wonderful, perfect people. Rather than teach that the artist is not the art and the art not the artist, it’s easier to omit, tweak, change… then his name appears, but he’s not the REAL author of the new way, so we don’t have to explain anything hard to our kids. The art vs artist argument is the only thing that truly makes sense to me. We see it happening all of the time outside of literature. Harvey Weinstein is a monster, most people can agree; rather than hating him, people were like “my favorite movie!!!” making it one and the same. Same with Bill Cosby. He was a somewhat funny guy, a horrible representation of what some men can be like, and yet, for decades no one stepped in because he was that dude on tv who played the wholesome doctor who loved hoagies. That was a character he created, not the man. Instead of understanding that, it’s easier to change, alter and manipulate the book. By doing that, they’re eradicating everything that makes them uncomfortable or have uncomfortable conversations. It’s no different than what is happening on a larger scale in society. Someone feels uncomfortable challenging their own options of sexuality, identity, religion, so instead of trying to understand or grapple with the idea there might just be another way to think, they basically decide that by denying rights the people will ultimately stop it and they won’t have to deal with it anymore. If it’s back in the shadows, they don’t have to see it and face their own ignorance. The only positive I’ve seen of it is that it doesn’t matter if your liberal or conservative, woman or man, single or married, a parent or childless – the reaction to this is equally strong. Based on your experience, your argument would be different, but those opposites meet in an organic whole who says no or yes. It’s one of the rare times where affiliation doesn’t pick your side. That is the only positive I see to this insanity.

    Have a great day!

    • I couldn’t have said better, Marla! If we alter everything that offends us or avoid it altogether, there’d be nothing to entertain us or stimulate our cerebral processes.

      • Ah, but perhaps… maybe, that’s the point ?

      • Honestly, I’d rather be offended by something than to have no feelings at all. That kind of vapid existence isn’t worth the trouble. I mean…I’m not a politician!

      • Ah, but the feeling of offense is different than entertainment and thought provocation. To respond to offense few people do anything but react emotionally and never think through the WHY. What if that’s all just a part of the bigger whole. Little changes=less offense. Less offense=less thought. Less thought=whatever comes next. What if that whatever is the goal?

        I don’t know. Maybe I read too many classic books, or maybe I’m just in a conspiratorial mind set this evening

  3. It comes down to $. At this point, the publisher is trying to maximize $. Their purpose is to make money for themselves and the title’s rights holders. By making these changes, which near as I can tell don’t alter the story arcs, they not only appease some admittedly easily offended people; they also get old titles into the news cycle. Writing books (art) and publishing them (business) has always entailed compromises, that’s the nature of the deal. During the pre-release process we call it editing, and we all deal with it. I’ve pushed back on some requested changes and accepted others. It’s the post-release pressure (often political in nature) that bothers many. It’s not new, people have been erasing/altering art to fit the new times/mores for all of history. Do I like it, nope, but I get it.

    • I understand, Armen. Indeed, the term is “show business”. Around 1983 I attended my first writer’s conference at a university in Dallas, Texas. Among the speakers was a woman who had written a number of romance novels. One took place during the French Revolution, she told us, and featured a character pulling out a switchblade. Switchblades didn’t exist in the 18th century, and she said she promptly informed her editor who had made the change from a dagger. “It’s in there,” she stated, sounding almost defeated. But it was a warning, in a sense, to all of us aspiring writers that our visions sometimes would have to be compromised for the sake of success.

      • One of my series is with a traditional publisher; they’re pretty reasonable. That said, I enjoy working on the series I self-published more. Maybe I’m just a control freak.

      • I had to resort to self-publishing to get my first novel into print. I remember a generation ago when self-publishing was considered a desperate, last resort move for authors. The perception was that, if a writer couldn’t get their book published traditionally, then it just wasn’t good enough. The reality is that publishing houses have always held a demi-god type of position that seemed unmalleable.

        Fortunately, things have changed. The self-publishing route has garnered more respect and therefore, become more mainstream. It’s put the power of the written word back into the hands of those who should have it: writers.

      • Publishing houses were classic ‘middlemen’ who saw/see themselves as the gatekeepers of quality writing/story-telling. While their connections and services are still valuable – I have three books with one – they’re no longer essential. The advent of POD and sites like The Fussy Librarian and distributors like Draft2Digital (note I use both) make it easier to reach readers directly. The change is analogous to what happened to investing. It’s still helpful to have a broker/trader, but it’s no longer necessary.

  4. I hear you, Alexandro and feel the rationale is about making money. Modifying the language in Dahl’s landmark works will presumably keep them included in curriculum choices for primary school. My kids loved the Dahl’s book and I don’t think you could accuse my kids of being prejudiced having Queer and Bi partners and friends. Dahl’s original words did not distort them.
    Censorship is disturbing.

  5. Arnbaud

    I agree.
    The truth is intangible.
    Nobody can modify the words used by others or take words or sentences out of their context (specialty of French journalists)
    To do this is to give an intention that the author may not have.
    Everyone has keep their freedom of opinion (authors and readers).
    After changing words in texts or novels, what else?
    Maybe change History…. Then it’s the beginning of a kind of totalitarianism.
    Sorry, my English is not good enough to explain all my thoughts.

    • I understand exactly what you’re saying, Arnaud, and agree completely. Editing something for the sake of clarity is one thing. But editing for the sake of political correctness is another – and quite disturbing. We have to understand the environments and time periods in which people were raised; therefore, their views or opinions won’t necessarily coincide with ours.

      • Arnaud

        In France, there is a comic : “Les aventures d’Asterix”. There are two Gallic heroes: a small one, Asterix and a fat one, Obelix. They love to hunt and eat wild boars and fight against the Romans.
        A few days ago, we learned that the publisher wanted to modify these comics, removing the hunting scenes as a symbol of animal abuse. The fact that Asterix is ​​small and Obelix fat also seemed to cause troubles.
        Fortunately, it only was a journalist joke to laught at political correctness.

      • I guess the politically correct crowd believes medieval peoples should have gone vegan. I need to check out that comic.

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