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20 Feb, 2023 12:16

Edits to classic children’s books spark ‘censorship’ criticism

Roald Dahl’s references to characters being ‘fat’ or ‘ugly’ have been withdrawn from new editions
Edits to classic children’s books spark ‘censorship’ criticism

Puffin Books is facing claims of “absurd censorship” after the UK-based publisher opted to remove certain phrases from reissues of books by classic children’s author Roald Dahl, to make the works more acceptable to a modern audience.

In new editions of Dahl’s books, passages involving topics such as a character’s weight, appearance, mental health and gender have been altered – after Puffin said it conducted a “review” of the language of well-loved books including ‘Matilda’ and ‘Charlie and the Chocolate Factory’.

“Roald Dahl was no angel but this is absurd censorship,” author Salman Rushdie wrote on Twitter. “Puffin Books and the Dahl estate should be ashamed.” 

Rushdie lived in hiding for many years after threats to his life following the publication of his novel ‘The Satanic Verses.’ He was stabbed and badly injured at a literature event in New York last year.

One amended passage is in Roald Dahl’s ‘The Witches,’ and describes a female character as being bald beneath a wig. A paragraph now ends with an additional line: “There are plenty of other reasons why women might wear wigs and there is nothing wrong with that.” 

Dahl’s Oompa Loompa characters from Charlie and the Chocolate Factory are also rebranded from “small men” to the gender-neutral “small people”, while other references – such as those to a character’s weight – have also been changed. In the same book, Augustus Gloop is no longer referred to as “fat” but “enormous.”

“When publishing new print runs of books written years ago, it’s not unusual to review the language used alongside updating other details including a book’s cover and page layout,” a spokesperson for the Roald Dahl Story Company said. “Any changes made have been small and carefully considered.” 

UK author Dahl died in 1990 at the age of 74. His children’s books have sold more than 300 million copies worldwide, been translated into 68 languages, and are still hugely popular. Many of his works have also been adapted as feature films.

However, Dahl has also been the source of controversy for anti-semitic comments made throughout his life, for which his estate apologized in 2020 saying it recognized the “understandable hurt” they had caused.