Recently, news came from Puffin Books that the newest reprint of English author Roald Dahl’s classic children’s tales would include changes to the wording of some passages. Some of the novels receiving this treatment include “James and the Giant Peach,” “Matilda” and “Charlie and the Chocolate Factory.”
The changes were described as small, focused on inclusive language and not significant to the main storylines. There were changes to the names of gendered characters, such as the Cloud-Men in “James and the Giant Peach,” who are now Cloud People, as reported in Manchester Evening News.
Even the Trunchbull, a notoriously menacing character in Dahl’s books, received the rewriting treatment, no longer being referred to as a “most formidable female” but now a “formidable woman.”
With the alterations only being minor, revising Dahl’s words and rewriting of literary history goes beyond omitting select words. For many, this move represented stone-cold censorship, an attempt by Puffin to rewrite history to suit a modern audience, and left many people wondering whose words were next.
Where is the line going to be drawn? Is there a limit, or is this one slippery slope away from censorship of books past, present and future?
Dr. Erika Travis, an English and behavioral science professor, said the situation is not this dramatic but is still worrisome.
“Any censoring of any thought process, even if it’s one I disagree with, I find concerning in some ways,” Travis said. “So, I’m not ready to shout the alarm that American society is headed for 1984. I’m not there. But I’m not particularly a fan of that kind of adjustment.”
Travis said this new trend of “remodeling” books opens a new question of an altered text’s validity and value.
“But, if we’re actually changing what they’re saying, then we have to ask ourselves, is this a text that’s still worth reading?” Travis said.
Jennifer Tronti, assistant professor of English, said she is torn on the issue. She spoke about a time in her children’s literature classes when a discussion about the word “fat” in children’s books came up. She said her students discussed how using words such as “fat” or “ugly” could promote stigma and affect younger readers.
“If we sanitize and remove content, word choice, plot, characters and anything that is either problematic, or that we don’t care for, then we never grow,” Tronti said. “We never develop. We never sharpen our ability to critique that position. In the long run, I think it is a detriment in a lot of ways to do so.”
She compared it to the idea of radio versions of songs scrubbed of vulgar language so they can be broadcasted to a larger audience.
“There’s a version that’s for the public, and then, of course, we know that there’s the explicit lyrics version” Tronti said. “But this is slightly different because these are over words like the word ‘fat’ or the word ‘ugly,’ which I know can be charged.”
After a flood of backlash from the public, Puffin Books, a subdivision of Penguin Random House UK, responded to the backlash by releasing a statement they would release “The Roald Dahl Classic Collection,” featuring the texts as Dahl originally intended.
Dahl’s books are not the first to receive this treatment. In the past, Harper Collins, the publisher of Poirot and Miss Marple mysteries, reworked and removed original passages in new editions of the novel, removing comments about teeth and physiques, according to The Telegraph.