Roald Dahl’s books range from the delicate The BFG to the adventurous James and the Giant Peach to the fantastical Charlie and the Chocolate Factory. His stories imbued magical powers and interesting creatures into normalcy and inspired imagination in many childhoods. Still vastly influential, Dahl’s publisher, Puffins has hired sensitivity readers to scrutinize his past texts and solidify that Dahl’s stories “can continue to be enjoyed by all today”.
Changes to be made concern removing many gendered terms, such as “boys and girls” to “children”. Oompa-Loompas are not small “men” but small “people”. In terms of Dahl’s vivid descriptions, the words “fat” and “ugly” have mostly seen the chopping block as well as cutting mentions of weight and insanity (which Dahl often used in a comedic sense). Some of these edits are harmless, while some edits entirely change the meaning of Dahl’s original sentiment.
These edits stirred a notable reaction from those in the publishing industry on all platforms. Sensitivity readers, in general, inspire ardent discourse. The Spectator, author Anthony Horowitz stated: “I made the changes [posed by sensitivity readers], but I will confess they hurt. It just feels wrong to be told what to write by an outside party, no matter how well-meaning. . . Children’s book publishers are more scared [of cancel culture] than anybody”.
Roald Dahl is no angel, though, and unfortunately is one of the many hailed literary figures to have a racist, antisemitic, and misogynistic past. In the original Charlie and the Chocolate Factory, the Oompa-Loompas were written to be content African slaves. Dahl himself made the effort in the 1970s to revise the Oompa-Loompas after receiving protests from the NAACP.
Further, he was known to be rude to his workers, treated his wife and children terribly, and Dahl made a heinous, antisemitic comment in 1983. The Dahl family released an official apology thirty years after the remark. Despite this, there has been quite a push-back online against Roald Dahl’s rewriting.
Many are upset about the missed opportunity with children to “engage in critical thinking and to reckon with history”. Twitter user @mariah_scary says “This is only going to contribute to the attitude that ‘it was never/is not as bad as they make it out to be'”.
Puffin is firm in its approach in that they do not want to promote anything of malicious intent and want to correct Dahl’s previous faults. The intentions of the removal assume parents may not always pay attention to what their children consume and will be unable to spark that needed conversation about the rights and wrongs of the past. But do we constantly need to erase historical wrongs? Regardless, the concerns from Twitter above are well-founded. Many argue plainly that funds like these should be used instead to promote new, progressive books for children instead of using them to rewrite the past.
For now, click here to read about ten compassionate, inclusive children’s books to gift to your children.