Sensitivity Censors Are Rewriting Roald Dahl Classics to Avoid Offense

Dahl’s publisher let unknown “sensitivity writers” replace the beloved “Matilda” author’s words with their own for fear of upsetting anyone

Roald Dahl, the beloved children’s author known for James and the Giant Peach, Matilda and Charlie and the Chocolate Factory, has gotten a politically correct makeover, with words like “ugly” and “fat” removed from new editions so that his work will not offend. Dahl was renowned for his highly descriptive, grotesque, clever and over-the-top language—often used to relay the obesity, ugliness, or just plain ridiculousness of the villainous characters that his child heroes must defeat.

The changes were made so that Dahl’s work “can continue to be enjoyed by all today,” according to publisher Puffin, who hired “sensitivity readers” to help them make the changes. “When publishing new print runs of books written years ago, it’s not unusual to review the language,” the publisher said in a statement.

Alas, today’s kids won’t be able to experience the full impact of his prose—they will not see the words that gave previous generations a giggle, especially since they weren’t allowed to use such language themselves. For example, all mentions of the word “fat” have been cut, according to The Guardian. That makes Augustus Gloop from Charlie and the Chocolate Factory now simply “enormous.” And the offensive word cuts aren’t limited to humans: a section of The Witches originally describing a “fat little brown mouse” is now just a plain “little brown mouse.”

In The Twits, Mrs. Twit. has gone from “ugly and beastly” to just “beastly.”

Some sections have been replaced wholesale. In previous editions of James and the Giant Peach, the Centipede sings: “Aunt Sponge was terrifically fat/And tremendously flabby at that,” and, “Aunt Spiker was thin as a wire/And dry as a bone, only drier.”

Those words have been removed, and replaced by: “Aunt Sponge was a nasty old brute/And deserved to be squashed by the fruit,” and, “Aunt Spiker was much of the same/And deserves half of the blame.”

Gender, meanwhile, has become neutral for some characters: Charlie and the Chocolate Factory’s Oompa Loompas, originally described as “small men,” are now “small people.” Similarly, the Cloud-Men in James and the Giant Peach are now Cloud-People.

At least one prominent author disapproves of the changes made, calling it “censorship.”

“Roald Dahl was no angel but this is absurd censorship,” said Salmon Rushdie, a Booker Prize-winning author, wrote on Twitter. Rushdie was seriously injured last year in an attack stemming from a long-standing fatwa against him by the late Ayatollah Khomeini of Iran, who objected to his fictional portrayal of the Prophet Mohammed in his 1988 novel The Satanic Verses. “Puffin Books and the Dahl estate should be ashamed,” Rushdie added.

Though known for his children’s fiction, Dahl also wrote autobiographical works such as Boy, a memoir, and Going Solo, his second autobiographical work. He worked as a fighter pilot for Britain’s RAF before writing his first children’s work, James and the Giant Peach. Before that, he could be found writing vulgar stories in the pages of Playboy.

In an example of life imitating art, as an author, Dahl could be monstrously difficult to work with—nearly as ghastly as some of his more unpleasant characters. “You have behaved to us in a way I can honestly say is unmatched and utter lack of civility,” one editor at his publishing house wrote him, according to a recent issue of the New York Review of Books. The ending of his relationship with Knopf resulted in everybody standing on their desks and cheering.

Puffin and the Roald Dahl Story Company changed the texts in collaboration with sensitivity readers at a company called Inclusive Minds, described by its spokesperson as “a collective for people who are passionate about inclusion and accessibility in children’s literature.”

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