The rewriting of Roald Dahl’s so-called kids’ books to avoid alienating progressives who refuse to bring children into the world makes as much sense as the alterations themselves.
The Witches amplifies the witchiness of the titular characters by noting their baldness under their wigs, which now receives this qualifier: “There are plenty of other reasons why women might wear wigs and there is certainly nothing wrong with that.” The witches hunt children even when camouflaging themselves by “working as a cashier in a supermarket or typing letters for a businessman,” but it now reads that they also do so when “working as a top scientist or running a business.”
Readers no longer encounter Mrs. Twit as “ugly” or Augustus Gloop as “fat.”
Mike Teavee, a golden-ticket holder obnoxious in his imitation of everything idiot box, loses essentially a symbol of his personality in one censored sentence. “Mike Teavee himself had no less than eighteen toy pistols of various sizes hanging from belts around his body, and every now and again he would leap up into the air and fire off half a dozen rounds from one or another of these weapons,” Charlie and the Chocolate factory once read. It does not in Puffin’s version.
Instead of traveling with Joseph Conrad and Rudyard Kipling, two authors associated with colonialism, Matilda travels in the new-and-improved eponymous novel with Jane Austen and John Steinbeck. In James and the Giant Peach, “Cloud-Men” become “Cloud-People.” In Fantastic Mr. Fox, “black” tractors described as “murderous, brutal-looking monsters” now appear as colorless “murderous, brutal-looking monsters.”
Penguin imprint Puffin hired “Inclusive Minds,” an Orwellian group that excludes words from reaching minds, to conduct sensitivity readings on Dahl’s works before publishing new editions. Bowdlerizing a beloved author’s works seems aside from presumptuous and dozens of other sins wildly insensitive. People looking to save everyone from offensive speech always cause the greatest offense — and paradoxically do not care one bit. The defenders of the action sophistically transform the argument into a legalistic one, as though the first response to the Museum of Modern Art spray-painting The Starry Night should involve their right to treat their property as they choose.
A spokesperson for Puffin explained the company’s rationale: “In the tradition of Stalin, airbrushing away fallen-from-favor commissars from photographs or antifa-types defacing and tearing down statues of Abraham Lincoln, John Greeleaf Whittier, and Ulysses Grant, we erase what offends us and play ventriloquist to dummy authors. Like the Grand High Witch, the Landlady, and the Enormous Crocodile, we come for the children.”
OK. A Puffin spokesperson did not say that. But why does it matter if I edited their words to provide greater comfort to my worldview? Puffin already established putting words into the mouths of others as not only a right but a moral duty.
Dahl endures a tough afterlife from cultural guardians even as readers from 4 to 94 continue to guzzle down his stories in a manner akin to Augustus Gloop attempting to guzzle down the entirety of the Chocolate River. Despite heroically fighting the Nazis in the skies during the 1940s, Dahl’s anti-Semitic foolishness uttered during the 1980s preoccupies modern critics. They not only cannot separate the art from the artist, they parse his life to accentuate the negative. Colin Burrow, reviewing a new Dahl biography, smugly characterizes his career: “Some time in the mid-1960s Dahl came to recognise that he was never going to write a good adult novel (he tried twice), and concentrated instead on children’s fiction, at which he became extraordinarily successful.” Aren’t Dahl’s “children’s” novels also enjoyed by adults and why the fetishization of the “novel”? Do we dismiss Dahl, and Flannery O’Connor and Ray Bradbury for that matter, from the pantheon of wonderful writers because so much of their best work occurred in the short story form?
Salman Rushdie, something of an authority on the suppression of speech, blasted the current Comstockery as “absurd censorship.” He added, “Puffin Books and the Dahl estate should be ashamed.”
Recent attacks on the two great authors demonstrate the methods of censors. In the case of the dead, the red pencils slash the author’s words. For the living, censors slash the stomach, the neck, and an eyeball.
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