Book Banning Brigade Comes for Roald Dahl

Book Banning Brigade Comes for Roald Dahl

Kazima Muwwakkil, Features Editor

The beloved children’s author Ronald Dahl was also a British novelist, short-story writer, poet, and screenwriter. You’re probably familiar with some of his more famous works such as “James and the Giant Peach”, “Charlie and the Chocolate Factory”, and “Matilda”, as well as the book and script for “Fantastic Mr.Fox”. 

It is obvious that Dahl is known for dark comedy and strange themes throughout his stories, if you can recall some events that happened throughout his books and their movies based on the original work. So clearly, his writings are definitely not without some sort of controversy, at least as far as parents not wanting to promote some of his books to very young children due to their characteristically gloomy themes, which is understandable. But, that’s not why he is at the center of controversy in the education system today. The reason why his books are now being called to be removed or are being sanitized and edited is because they say words like “fat” and “ugly” – so it’s deemed to be offensive, and therefore in need of slight changes.

Sounds crazy but it’s true. We’re all becoming a bunch of softies.

The questions many people, and even me, have been asking are, “By editing old books to make their language replicate our modern culture, are we changing historical works in the name of inclusivity and awareness?” and “Is this not a form of censorship? How does that make America better than the CCP (Chinese Communist Party)?” 

According to The Guardian, Roald Dahl’s children’s books are being rewritten to remove language deemed offensive by the publisher Puffin. Puffin has hired “sensitivity readers” to rewrite chunks of the author’s text to make sure the books “can continue to be enjoyed by all today”, resulting in extensive changes across Dahl’s work. Edits have been made to descriptions of characters’ physical appearances. The word “fat” has been cut from every new edition of relevant books, while the word “ugly” has also been culled, the Daily Telegraph reported.

So now, Augustus Gloop in Charlie and the Chocolate Factory is now described as “enormous” instead of “fat”…as if that makes much of a difference. I’d say calling a person enormous does more emotional damage than simply calling them fat, wouldn’t you agree? 

And get this-

In The Twits, Mrs.Twit is no longer “ugly and beastly” but just “beastly”. Surely these sensitivity readers thought that describing a person as beastly had to be MUCH more palatable than both ugly and beastly! 

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.” Both verses have been removed, and in their place are the rhymes: “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.”

Isn’t that absurd? I mean…consider the context of these lines within the story. Replacing certain words or phrases with a synonym does not entirely erase the message altogether. And if that’s not odd to you, consider this: 

Gender-neutral terms have been added in places – where Charlie and the Chocolate Factory’s Oompa Loompas were “small men”, they are now “small people”. The Cloud-Men in James and the Giant Peach has become Cloud-People. References to “female” characters have disappeared. Miss Trunchbull in Matilda, once a “most formidable female”, is now a “most formidable woman”. I wonder what provoked these people to think that perfectly ubiquitous descriptions of identity are not good enough to mention in a children’s book. Why must they cause a commotion over such trifling matters? 

Changes were made in conjunction with Inclusive Minds, which its spokesperson describes as “a collective for people who are passionate about inclusion and accessibility in children’s literature”. 

This corporation may call it what they want, but in reality, all this is erasure. We do not need to recreate these works, if they are so offensive then simply do not read them! After all, shouldn’t it be up to the parents to decide what literature they want their young ones to read? It’s not like the only children’s books available nowadays are Dahl’s or Dr. Seuss’s as there is a huge market of more modern books of equal or better quality out there. Besides, are kids actually reading these books and turning into these horribly mean, insensitive, and discriminatory people? Of course not! Why (?) you may ask. Because all children care about are the stories and entertainment they get from the book. Unlike these sensitivity-readers, kids simply want to enjoy the classic books held near and dear to people’s hearts for generations. They aren’t crying to their mamas after stumbling upon words like “flabby” or “men”. 

Not only are most, if not all, of these changes completely unnecessary, but it is important to understand that these works are a part of our history. And if we’ve learned anything from our history teachers, it’s that we won’t always like or agree with the things we read or learn about. However, being able to see the growth from past to present is important for our understanding of the progression of our world and the development of American society. 

In short, there is no logical reason to sanitize classic novels, storybooks, or any old pieces of literature. Seems like George Orwell and his predictions in 1984 weren’t too much of a long shot after all (and that’s not a good thing!!!). 

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