UK Prime Minister Rishi Sunak has joined in the criticism of changes made to classic works by Roald Dahl which came to light over the weekend. Titles like James and the Giant Peach, The BFG, Matilda and Charlie and the Chocolate Factory have been altered by modifying words that are now deemed offensive.
Publisher Puffin Books, an imprint of Penguin Books, said edits were made so the stories “can continue to be enjoyed by all today.”
Sunak’s official spokesperson told local media, “When it comes to our rich and varied literary heritage, the prime minister agrees with the BFG that we shouldn’t gobblefunk around with words. I think it’s important that works of literature and works of fiction are preserved and not airbrushed. We have always defended the right to free speech and expression.”
Also speaking out against the changes is author Salman Rushdie. “Roald Dahl was no angel but this is absurd censorship,” he wrote on Twitter.
PEN America CEO Suzanne Nossel joined the chorus saying “we are alarmed at news of ‘hundreds of changes’ to venerated works by Roald Dahl.”
She continued, “Selective editing to make works of literature conform to particular sensibilities could represent a dangerous new weapon.”
His Dark Materials author Philip Pullman, meanwhile, told BBC Radio 4 that Dahl’s books “should be allowed to fade away” rather than be changed. “If Dahl offends us, let him go out of print,” he said. “Read all these [other] wonderful authors who are writing today, who don’t get as much of a look-in because of the massive commercial gravity of people like Roald Dahl.”
Poet and author Debjani Chatterjee, conversely, told BBC World Service, it’s “a very good thing that the publishers are reviewing his work” and that the edits were done “sensitively.”
Among the changes, the character Augustus Gloop from Charlie and the Chocolate Factory is no longer referred to as “fat” and is now described as “enormous.” Miss Trunchbull, the villain in Matilda, is referred to as the “most formidable woman” instead of the “most formidable female.” James and the Giant Peach had alterations too particularly when 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.” The revised versions now read, “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.” As society begins to create more consciousness around mental health, words like “crazy” and “mad” were also edited.
Dahl, who died in 1990, is one of the UK’s most popular children’s authors. Netflix acquired rights to his works in 2021 and backed the film version of Matilda the Musical which Sony released theatrically in the UK, grossing over $33M.
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