“We will not as a nation build a better future for America by trying to erase America’s past,” noted Vice President Kamala Harris at a Feb. 27 event marking the conclusion of this year’s Black History Month. Wise words, indeed, from an orator not often troubled by making clear and concise points. And yet it seems this call for preservation does not quite extend to cultural artifacts outside the narrow scope of race-based teaching. In fact, it appears there is a full-throttle attempt to make bland the rich heritage shared by all. And the digital world is the vanguard of such censorial efforts. As popular children’s author Roald Dhal – famous for works like Charlie and the Chocolate Factory, Matilda, The BFG and many others – undergoes a progressive transformation at the hands of woke publishers, it seems that the first targets of this”erasure” are the next generation.
In his starkly prescient novel 1984, George Orwell wrote:
“Every record has been destroyed or falsified, every book rewritten, every picture has been repainted, every statue and street building has been renamed, every date has been altered. And the process is continuing day by day and minute by minute. History has stopped. Nothing exists except an endless present in which the Party is always right.”
These dark words are as important today as they were when the book was written almost 80 years ago. And it is Orwell’s contemporary, Roald Dahl, who is the most prominent canary in this particular censorial coalmine.
Sense and Insensibility
Much beloved children’s author Roald Dahl has been placed under the scalpel of “sensitivity editors” who are in the process of sculpting his works into torturous language they deem more fitting for the modern audience. But, as was the case with Dr. Seuss’ catalog, it is not racial tropes or offensive pictures that face the censor. Instead, it appears that an author’s work is being bastardized in the name of woke progressive sensibilities.
“The wonderful words of Roald Dahl can transport you to different worlds and introduce you to the most marvelous characters. [The books were] written many years ago, and so we regularly review the language to ensure that it can continue to be enjoyed by all today,” publisher Puffin Books explained. In other words: It’s all about clarity. Right?
One might assume that such “reviews” were appropriate for texts written in archaic English, such as Chaucer’s The Canterbury Tales; however, the following examples demonstrate that clarity was far from the goal.
From The Witches: “Even if she is working as a cashier in a supermarket or typing letters for a businessman,” becomes “Even if she is working as a top scientist or running a business.”
Numerous references to things being either black or white (including inanimate objects) are removed.
Mother and father are nouns non grata, as are terms like “Cloud-men” who have become “Cloud-people.”
The list of egregious edits is long and contrived and appears to have a radical agenda as its driving force.
But, of course, while the new editions are subject to the new normal, surely your existing copies of Dahl’s works remain safe? Well, yes and no.
The Digital Delete
For readers who stick strictly with the paper versions of books, all is well and good, and they can continue to enjoy the stories in their original format. However, some surprises may be in store for those who – in good faith – purchased a digital edition.
The London Times reports that owners of Dahl ebooks are having their existing versions updated with the new language and have no choice to opt out of such revisions. One such customer – who works in children’s publishing — decried the move, saying:
“It feels Orwellian that we are having the updated versions forced upon us, and has made me weary of ebooks. I assumed that because the changes to the work were so big that I would be given the option of whether to download it.”
Notable literary figures also have spoken out against the changes, such as Philip Pullman (himself a famed children’s author) and Salman Rushdie, who wrote, “Roald Dahl was no angel, but this is absurd censorship. Puffin Books and the Dahl estate should be ashamed.” And perhaps this backlash gave Puffin publishers pause for thought.
On Friday, Feb. 24, the publishing house announced that it would be issuing both versions (in paper form) for release, the censored version and the “classic” version. However, this sop to angry fans is likely just window dressing as public and school libraries will almost certainly opt for the “sanitized” editions, depriving millions of children of the authentic experience.
For the digital versions, though, no such Hobson’s choice is on offer.
Inclusion for All … But Not for You
“Puffin and the Roald Dahl Story Company made the latest changes 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,'” noted British broadsheet The Telegraph.
Co-founder of this group, Beth Cox, explained that her previous career involved developing “guidelines for illustrators on all aspects of diversity and equality – gender, heritage and race, culture, disability, sexual orientation and age – which are sent out with all new commissions.” Essentially, woke rules for authors hoping to crack the market. She also wrote the “Diversity and Inclusion Unit for the Children’s Module of the Distance Learning MA.”
Cox appears deeply involved in the world of children’s publishing but perhaps more as a gatekeeper for an ideological perspective that puts dogma ahead of storytelling.
Dahl once told a friend that he “hoped to God” that his work would not be changed. “I’ve warned my publishers that if they later on so much as change a single comma in one of my books, they will never see another word from me. Never!” he said, shortly before his death in 1990. “When I am gone, if that happens, then I’ll wish mighty Thor knocks very hard on their heads with his Mjolnir. Or I will send along the ‘enormous crocodile’ to gobble them up.” Although if the present zeitgeist is any measure, Thor will be writing a strongly worded letter and the crocodile might well be wearing a tutu.
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