New editions of classic 20th-century children’s books by British author Roald Dahl — such as “Charlie and the Chocolate Factory,” “James and the Giant Peach,” “Matilda,” “The Witches” and “Fantastic Mr. Fox” – edited and rewritten to remove language deemed offensive or potentially insensitive to today’s sensibilities.
After comparing new editions published by Puffin with previous versions of Dahl’s classics, British newspaper The Telegraph found that the new versions removed or rewrote passages describing characters such as “fat,” “crazy,” “ugly,” and “black.”
Some references to ethnicity have been removed or adjusted – “Eskimos” are now called Inuit – and some references to “boys and girls” and “mothers and fathers” have been replaced with gender-neutral terms such as “children” and “parents”. “.
The Telegraph cited examples before and after, including from “Charlie and the Chocolate Factory.” An older edition of the book described one character like this: “The man behind the counter looked fat and well fed. He had big lips and fat cheeks and a very fat neck.” In the newest edition, these sentences have been removed entirely.
Other sentences that refer to fat have also been removed, for example “The fat around his neck shot out across the top of his collar like a rubber ring”; “Who’s the big fat boy?”; and “Great, isn’t it?”
There are many more subtle changes: “The fat shopkeeper called” became “the shopkeeper called,” and “the fat shopkeeper said” became “the shopkeeper said.”
Some Twitter users attacked the latest updates to Dahl’s books as “woke” and pointless. “What bothers me about Roald Dahl’s changes is how stupid they are,” tweeted Daily Telegraph arts and entertainment editor Anita Singh. “The word ‘fat’ is still banned in the rest of the description where Augustus Gloop is clearly fat.”
Dahl, one of the most popular children’s authors of the 20th century, died in 1990 at the age of 74, and in 2021, the streaming service Netflix acquired the Roald Dahl Story Co., which manages the rights to the author’s characters and stories, and had already begun reviewing Dahl’s work alongside Puffin prior to the Netflix sale. Dahl’s books have sold more than 300 million copies worldwide, with translations in 63 languages.
“We want to ensure that all children continue to enjoy Roald Dahl’s wonderful stories and characters today,” said the Roald Dahl Story Co. in a statement. “When publishing new printing series of books written years ago, it is not unusual to revise the language used along with updating other details including book cover and page layout. Our guiding principle throughout has been to keep the story lines, characters, and indifference and sharp spirit of the original text. Changes have been made very little and have been carefully considered.”
A spokesman for Roald Dahl Story Co. said: Rick Behari in an email that “the overall changes are small in terms of the actual changes that have been made and also in terms of the overall percentage of the texts that have been changed.”
Like his life, Dahl’s work has had turbulent times and has long been subject to updates, revisions and apologies by other creative people working to bring his art to a wider audience.
In the first issue of “Charlie and the Chocolate Factory,” published in 1964, the Oompa-Loompas helping Willy Wonka were originally described as African Pygmies that Wonka “smuggled” out of Africa in crates. to live and work in his factory. Facing pressure from Black actors and groups like the NAACP after the Civil Rights era in America, the 1971 film made the Oompa-Loompas orange-skinned with green hair. In a 1973 revision of the book, Dahl recast the Oompa-Loompas as white and wonderful instead of Black and African.
In 2020, actress Anne Hathaway apologized for her portrayal of a Grand High Witch in Robert Zemeckis’ adaptation of “The Witches” in which the character had three fingers, angering disability advocates for the negative portrayal of differences limbs. In the same year, the Dahl family apologized for their history of making anti-Semitic statements.