Authors criticise Roald Dahl works being rewritten for sensitivity

Certain words have been entirely scrapped from new editions of the British writer’s works, including Charlie and the Chocolate Factory and Matilda

Puffin Books have incorporated sensitivity edits into famous works by Roald Dahl, who was known for his irreverent children's books. Getty Images
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Literary figures are condemning Puffin Books for rewriting the works of Roald Dahl, alongside a team of sensitivity readers, to make them more agreeable to contemporary readers.

Certain words have been entirely scrapped from new editions of the British writer’s works, which include James and the Giant Peach, Charlie and the Chocolate Factory and Matilda.

Rewrites include depicting Augustus Gloop in Charlie and the Chocolate Factory as “enormous”, instead of “fat”. The word “ugly” is also being culled when describing a character, such as Mrs Twit in The Twits, who is now described as “beastly”. Other changes include replacing “female” with “woman” and “small men” with “small people”, in reference to the Oompa Loompas from Charlie and the Chocolate Factory.

"When publishing new print runs of books written years ago, it's not unusual to review the language used alongside updating other details including a book's cover and page layout," a representative for the Roald Dahl Story Company said about the sensitivity edits.

"Our guiding principle throughout has been to maintain the storylines, characters, and the irreverence and sharp-edged spirit of the original text. Any changes made have been small and carefully considered."

In a genre polished with niceties, Dahl did not shy away from depicting the more malicious aspects of the human character. His works, however, were also replete with elements that have been criticised as misogynistic, anti-Semitic and racist. Nonetheless, some writers have suggested that rewriting the works to make them more palatable by today's standards may set a "dangerous precedent".

Suzanne Nossel, chief executive of Pen America, tweeted: "At Pen America, we are alarmed at news of ‘hundreds of changes’ to venerated works by Roald Dahl in a purported effort to scrub the books of that which might offend someone.

“Those who might cheer specific edits to Dahl's work should consider how the power to rewrite books might be used in the hands of those who do not share their values and sensibilities.”

“Roald Dahl was no angel, but this is absurd censorship,” Booker-prize winning author Salman Rushdie said in a Twitter post. “Puffin Books and the Dahl estate should be ashamed.”

Fans of Dahl also took to Twitter to lambast Puffin for the censorship.

"I don’t know who the editor was," one user wrote, posting a snapshot of one of the edits. "But it was no Roald Dahl."

Updated: February 19, 2023, 12:47 PM