Fans of Roald Dahl’s classic literature aren’t happy with some of the new edits made by the modern gatekeepers of his material. Puffin, Dahl’s publisher, recently removed language it considered offensive or exclusionary.
Puffin even hired sensitivity readers to update portions of certain books like Charlie and the Chocolate Factory and The Twits. The publisher said it hopes to ensure that Dahl’s classics “can continue to be enjoyed by all today.”
The edits include updated gender-neutral language and new descriptions of certain characters, especially in regards to physical appearances. Augustus Gloop, for example, from Charlie and the Chocolate Factory, is now simply “enormous” rather than more descriptively overweight. Mrs. Twit, a character from The Twits, is now just “beastly” instead of “ugly and beastly.” And in James and the Giant Peach, sensitivity readers dropped Miss Sponge’s “fat” descriptor; Miss Spider’s head is not “black” anymore; and the Earthworm no longer sports “lovely pink” skin, but rather “lovely smooth skin.”
Many fans claim that Puffin’s kowtowing to modern language sensitivities is akin to censorship.
“Stupid,” Daily Telegraph arts and entertainment editor Anita Singh said of the Charlie and the Chocolate Factory changes.
Several other Twitter users, including Times Radio presenter Stig Abell, lambasted another particular edit from The Witches as “pointless.” The edit in question refers to the line, “You can’t go round pulling the hair of every lady you meet, even if she is wearing gloves. Just try it and see what happens.” The line now reads: “Besides, there are plenty of other reasons why women might wear wigs and there is certainly nothing wrong with that.”
Roald Dahl sold more than 250 million copies of his literary classics worldwide
Author Michael Shellenberger called Puffin’s changes to “totalitarian censorship.” Summer Anne Burton, a freelance creative director, said Puffin “executed the edits abysmally.” And one Twitter user said, “it’s grotesque and immoral and a concession to fanatics. Buy proper Dahl books secondhand, everyone!”
Puffin may have felt the edits were necessary given the scrutiny the Dahl family has faced in recent years. The late author allegedly made some anti-semitic remarks just prior to his death in 1990, which surfaced many years later.
“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 family’s statement read. “Those prejudiced remarks are incomprehensible to us and stand in marked contrast to the man we knew and to the values at the heart of Roald Dahl’s stories, which have positively impacted young people for generations.”
Other late authors deemed controversial have also faced modern censorship from an era and audience which they never knew. In March 2021, publishers halted the sale of six Dr. Seuss books over racist and insensitive imagery.