The publisher of Roald Dahl’s popular children’s books made edits to make the works more inclusive, sparking a debate about changing literature from different eras to reflect modern sensibilities.
The publisher, Puffin, made hundreds of changes to the books, taking out words or passages that might be considered offensive in a modern context. They also added passages that were never in the original text to begin with.
For instance, in the 2001 edition of ‘Charlie and the Chocolate Factory’ Grandma Josephine speaks of a “crazy Indian prince.” The 2022 edition describes the character as a “ridiculously rich Indian prince.” Augustus Gloop, one of the antagonists in the novel, is no longer described as “enormously fat.” Instead, he’s now simply described as “enormous.”
Aunt Sponge, in the 2022 edition of James and the Giant Peach, is described as “quite large” instead of “enormously fat.” Multiple other passages in which Aunt Sponge is described as “fat” are edited to remove that descriptor. In another instance, “two ghastly hags” was changed to “two ghastly aunts.” The word “queer” was removed as the descriptor of a house, and swapped for “strange.”
In ‘The Witches’ several edits were made to make character descriptors gender-neutral. A “chambermaid” was swapped for a “cleaner.” A line in which a character says, “You must be mad, woman!” was changed to, “You must be out of your mind!” The line describing a, “Great flock of ladies” was changed to a “Great group of ladies.”
Dahl was a bad man and there’s no one alive today unrelated to him who particularly cares about his feelings—what we care about is finding a way to have words that meant something to us continue to mean something to kids living in a very different time, and this is how that works
— Seth Abramson (@SethAbramson) February 18, 2023
The decision of the editors to change elements of Dahl’s novels sparked a debate online about whether it is appropriate to change aspects of older works to fit the sensibilities of modern audiences. Although many slammed the publisher for editing his previous works, some argued that the works were offensive and needed updates to be appropriate for the current batch of children. (RELATED: Mattel Releases Gender-Neutral Barbies In Efforts To Be ‘More Inclusive’)
New York Times best-selling author Seth Abramson defended the publisher’s choice and told those upset to “grow up.”
“The way we speak and the way we raise kids changes over time and *always has*,” Abramson tweeted, “so if the options are for beloved authors from long ago to cease to be read at all or making the most minor imaginable changes so that their work can live on, that’s an *easy decision*, not a melodrama”