February 21, 2023
SINGAPORE – Salman Rushdie and other authors have criticised the rewriting of Roald Dahl’s books to remove offensive language.
“Roald Dahl was no angel, but this is absurd censorship. Puffin Books and the Dahl estate should be ashamed,” the 75-year-old British-American novelist wrote in a tweet on Sunday.
Rushdie, a Booker Prize-winning author, is no stranger to censorship, having lived in hiding for years after Iran’s Grand Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini issued a fatwa calling for his death in 1989 because of the alleged blasphemy in his novel The Satanic Verses. More recently, he was attacked and seriously injured in 2022 at an event in New York state.
Other authors also slammed the changes in Puffin Books’ new editions of Dahl’s books to passages relating to weight, mental health, gender and race.
For instance, the word “fat” has been trimmed from new editions of relevant books, while the word “ugly” has also been culled.
The character of Augustus Gloop in Charlie And The Chocolate Factory (1964) is described instead as “enormous” and Mrs Twit from The Twits (1979) is no longer “ugly and beastly” but just “beastly”.
Some passages not written by the beloved British author have also been added, such as in The Witches (1983).
A paragraph about witches being bald beneath their wigs has a new line added: “There are plenty of other reasons why women might wear wigs and there is certainly nothing wrong with that.”
Occupations for women were also changed from “cashier in a supermarket or typing letters for a businessman” to “top scientist or running a business”.
In The Fantastic Mr Fox (1970), the word “black” was removed from the description of the terrible tractors and changed to “murderous, brutal-looking monsters”.
Gender-neutral terms have also been added. Charlie And The Chocolate Factory’s Oompa Loompas are now called “small people” instead of “small men”, while the Cloud-Men in James And The Giant Peach (1961) have become Cloud-People.
Author Michael Shellenberger wrote on Twitter: “This is totalitarian censorship and should be broadly condemned by authors and publishers.”
Another writer, Christopher Paolini, added: “This is wrong. Ban a book if you must. Or put a content warning at the front. But don’t rewrite it. Don’t put words in an author’s mouth (especially one who has no say in the matter).”
Dahl, who died in 1990 at the age of 74, has sold more than 300 million copies of his wildly popular books, but also courted controversy due to antisemitic comments he made throughout his life.
The Roald Dahl Story Company, which controls the rights to the books, said it worked with Puffin to review the books to ensure that “Dahl’s wonderful stories and characters continue to be enjoyed by all children today”.
The changes were made in conjunction with Inclusive Minds, a collective passionate about inclusion and accessibility in children’s literature.
Ms Suzanne Nossel, chief executive of PEN America, a community of 7,500 writers that advocates for freedom of expression, tweeted: “If we start down the path of trying to correct for perceived slights instead of allowing readers to receive and react to books as written, we risk distorting the work of great authors and clouding the essential lens that literature offers on society.”
Roald Dahl was no angel but this is absurd censorship. Puffin Books and the Dahl estate should be ashamed. https://t.co/sdjMfBr7WW
— Salman Rushdie (@SalmanRushdie) February 18, 2023