The recent news that Puffin Books has updated electronic versions of Roald Dahl’s novels with censored versions has sparked controversy and condemnation from literary enthusiasts and scholars alike. The new versions of the books contain hundreds of changes related to weight, mental health, violence, gender, and race. The changes were made without Dahl’s involvement, leading many to question the motivations of the publisher and the broader trend of literary censorship.
The move to update Dahl’s books is not a new phenomenon. As reported by the New York Times, changes to Dahl’s texts began appearing more than a year ago without attracting significant attention until now. However, the recent news that readers who bought electronic versions of the writer’s books before the controversial updates have discovered their copies have now been changed has brought the issue to the forefront of public attention.
The changes made to Dahl’s books are not insignificant. Augustus Gloop is no longer described as fat, and Mrs. Twit is no longer described as fearfully ugly. The changes go beyond mere cosmetic alterations, with entire passages being rewritten to remove language deemed unacceptable by modern standards. The updates raise significant questions about the impact of censorship on literary works, particularly those written in different historical and social contexts.
Dahl’s biographer Matthew Dennison has accused the publisher of “strong-arming readers into accepting a new orthodoxy in which Dahl himself has played no part.” The move to update the books without the involvement of the author or his estate raises important questions about the role of publishers in shaping literary works. It also highlights the tension between the desire to make literary works accessible to modern audiences and the importance of preserving the original texts for posterity.
The controversy surrounding the updates to Dahl’s books is not the first instance of literary censorship in recent years. In 2020, the classic children’s book series “The Adventures of Tintin” was banned in the Congo due to its perceived racist portrayal of Africans. Similarly, in 2018, Harper Lee’s “To Kill a Mockingbird” was banned by a Mississippi school district due to concerns about its use of racial slurs. These instances highlight the ongoing tension between the need to promote diversity and inclusion in literature and the importance of preserving the original works in their historical and social contexts.
Children’s book author Frank Cottrell-Boyce has pointed out that the key to reading for pleasure is having a choice about what you read. The move to update Dahl’s books raises questions about the impact of censorship on children’s reading choices and their ability to engage with literature on their terms. The importance of choice in reading is particularly relevant in light of outgoing children’s laureate Cressida Cowell’s Life-changing Libraries campaign, which aims to promote reading for pleasure in schools.
The move to update Dahl’s books is particularly concerning given the author’s own stance on literary censorship. When he was alive, Dahl threatened to never write another word if his publishers ever changed his language, promising to send his ‘Enormous Crocodile’ to gobble them up if they did so. The updates made to Dahl’s books without his involvement raise questions about the importance of preserving the author’s original vision and the potential impact of censorship on the integrity of literary works.
In conclusion, the controversy surrounding the updates to Roald Dahl’s books highlights the ongoing tension between the desire to promote diversity and inclusion in literature and the importance of preserving the original works in their historical and social contexts. The move to update the books without the involvement of the author or his estate raises questions about the role of publishers in shaping literary works and the potential impact of censorship on the integrity of literary works. As we continue to navigate these tensions, it is important to prioritize the promotion of choice in reading and the preservation of literary works for future generations.