It was recently announced that Roald Dahl’s much-beloved children’s books — which include “Charlie and the Chocolate Factory,” “The Witches,” “Matilda,” “James and the Giant Peach” — were all being Posthumously edited to reflect awake sensibilities. The changes are truly appalling. These are descriptions of characters “fat” Oder “ugly” They have been removed, gender-neutral language introduced, and ludicrous injections of political correctness made.
In one case, “The Witches,” The description of the witches being bald has been changed and a new sentence added to convey something Dahl clearly did not intend. The original text — “You can’t go round pulling the hair of every lady you meet, even if she is wearing gloves. Just you try it and see what happens” — now reads, “Besides, there are plenty of other reasons why women might wear wigs and there is certainly nothing wrong with that.” Heaven forfend long hair continues to be associated with femininity. (You can read a detailed rundown of the changes Dahl made to Dahl’s books here. This is a Twitter thread.)
This has so many problems that it is difficult to know where you should start. Joyce Carol Oates, a prominent figure in the world literature fiction, makes a crucial point. “Prose so radically revised by ‘sensitivity readers’ should be noted as collaborations. it is unfair to readers to be deceived into thinking that they are reading the original work,” She tweeted. “If Dahl is so egregious as to require such wholesale whitewashing (sic) why republish him at all?”
Walter Kirn is a significant author who takes Oates’ observation one step further. Perhaps Dahl was a mean antisemite at a personal level. But what’s really happening isn’t some concession made by a singlely problematic writer. “Writers may wish to rethink their ambitions. If their work should prove lasting, it may end up being tortured for all eternity,” Kirn observed. “This is not mere ‘sensitivity’ editing, by the way. This is blunt, agenda-driven rewriting. It is idea injection. And it will be continual once it starts.” (Also worth mentioning is that Salman Rushdie — who Dahl was a person I disliked for many reasons. — is also decrying the decision.)
What is most troubling about the Dahl episode? The fact that it generated very little outrage. The Dahl episode is notable for the fact that there was very little outrage. Netflix holds rights to Dahl’s worksThese Orwellian Rewrites were bought by a company called ‘The Cold Business Decision’ for $500 million in 2021. This is not unusual. Dr. Seuss Enterprises stopped publishing some of Seuss’s works in 2021 due to political correctness. This caused a lot of public debate.
Apart from some objections from some major British authors, Dahl has been treated with the same level of media attention and criticism as the Seuss estate did two years ago when it made controversial decisions. Kirn was probably right to anticipate there will be no major backlash against the precedent that has been set.
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