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What the Hell Is Going on With These Roald Dahl Book Changes?

anne hathaway looks fabulous in the Witches

Three years after the late Roald Dahl’s family quietly apologized for his antisemitism, Puffin Books and the Roald Dahl Story Company, which manages the copyrights and trademarks for his works, have made language changes to new editions of his books. To no one’s surprise, everyone is up in arms about these changes, even though they seem relatively small, all things considered.

Originally reported by The Telegraph, the story has become a hot button of criticism, with organizations like PEN America and even author Salman Rushdie weighing in. On Saturday, Rushdie tweeted, “Roald Dahl was no angel but this is absurd censorship. Puffin Books and the Dahl estate should be ashamed.”

As detailed by The Telegraph, references to race, gender, mental health, and weight were altered or removed. For example, Charlie and the Chocolate Factory’s Augustus Gloop is no longer described as “enormously fat,” just “enormous,” and the Oompa Loompas are now “small people” as opposed to “small men.” Similarly, the mysterious, sky-dwelling Cloud-Men in James and the Giant Peach are now Cloud-People.

Meanwhile, the titular villains in The Witches disguise themselves as women who are “top scientist[s] or running a business” rather than supermarket cashiers or secretaries. The Witches also has a new line about how, even though the witches wear wigs because they are bald, “There are plenty of other reasons why women might wear wigs and there is certainly nothing wrong with that.”

The word “weird” has been removed from the description of the “African language” in The Twits, the Bloodbottler in The BFG is no longer described as having “reddish-brown” skin, and the tractors in The Fabulous Mr. Fox are no longer described as “black,” just “murderous, brutal-looking monsters.”

The Roald Dahl Story Company and Puffin Books partnered with the Inclusive Minds collective, which aims to make children’s books more accessible and diverse, to review Dahl’s books so his “wonderful stories and characters continue to be enjoyed by all children today.” The Road Dahl Story Co. described changes to the texts as “small and carefully considered,” and said analysis of Dahl’s collected works began in 2020, prior to Netflix’s acquisition of the company.

“When publishing new print runs of books written years ago, it’s not unusual to review the language used alongside updating other details, including a book’s cover and page layout,” the company said. “Our guiding principle throughout has been to maintain the storylines, characters, and the irreverence and sharp-edged spirit of the original text.”

These changes have been widely panned by liberals and conservatives alike, though as journalist and Maintenance Phase co-host Michael Hobbes notes, conservatives are already decrying the edits as “woke” hysteria. On Sunday, Hobbes tweeted, “This is going to be invoked as ‘woke censorship’ for years to come despite no one asking for it and the publisher receiving widespread criticism from the left.”

Indeed, The Telegraph published an op-ed by Tim Stanley on Sunday with the headline “The butchering of Roald Dahl is an assault on liberty by a neurotic elite.”

However, searching Dahl’s name on Twitter reveals hundreds of tweets from people on all sides of the political spectrum noting how absurd these changes are. Several have commented that the Roald Dahl Story Company is likely seeking to renew the IP of Dahl’s books. In this light, editing the texts reads as a cash grab from everyone with a controlling interest in his characters, settings, and stories, which would also include Netflix if and when it develops new adaptations of Dahl’s works.

Whatever the reason for these changes, plenty of people are responding to the uproar with jokes. It seems the textual edits to Dahl’s books really aren’t that significant. Furthermore, books are edited all the time for new editions. Consider Casey McQuiston’s Red, White, and Royal Blue, which has been edited at least twice to remove references to Israel and the Harry Potter series in the four years since its initial publication.

Long story short, no one is canceling Roald Dahl. In fact, most people—even those critical of his antisemitism, ableism, fatphobia, and other prejudices—seem inclined to cancel his estate for altering his books even a little. Perhaps Puffin Books and The Roald Dahl Story Company could instead add a content warning similar to the one employed by Disney+ on its older titles at the beginning of Dahl’s books.

There hasn’t been a response to all this backlash as of yet, but we suspect one will be released soon.

(featured image: Warner Bros.)

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Samantha Puc (she/they) is a fat, disabled, lesbian writer and streamer whose work focuses primarily on LGBTQ+ and fat representation in pop culture. Their writing has been featured on Refinery29, Bitch Media, them., and elsewhere. Samantha is the co-creator of Fatventure Mag and she contributed to the award-winning Fat and Queer: An Anthology of Queer and Trans Bodies and Lives. They are an original cast member of Death2Divinity, and they are currently pursuing a Master of Fine Arts degree in creative nonfiction at The New School. When Samantha is not working or writing, she loves spending time with her cats, reading, and perfecting her grilled cheese recipe.