Roald Dahl books undergo rewrites

By Marty Dubecky, Digital Communications Manager

Ten books written by children’s author Roald Dahl are now being changed and edited to incorporate more inclusive language.

Dahl, the author of books such as The BFG, Charlie and the Chocolate Factory and Matilda, died in 1990 at age 74. 

Puffin Books, the publisher of Dahl’s classic children’s books, is the force behind the rewrites. Puffin has made over 100 changes to the books, most notably in Charlie and the Chocolate Factory. The character Augustus Gloop who was described as “fat” in the original books is now called “enormous.” Similarly, Oompa Loompa characters who Dahl wrote to be “small men” are now written as “small people.”

Other changes Puffin has implemented include referring to villainous tractors from The Fabulous Mr. Fox as “murderous” and “brutal-looking” instead of “black” in order to avoid potentially racist implications. In another famous work, The Witches, Dahl describes witches as being bald beneath the wigs they wear. A change to the book includes the sentence, “There are plenty of other reasons why women might wear wigs and there is certainly nothing wrong with that.”

The Roald Dahl Story Co., which manages the copyrights for stories and collaborates with publishers,  worked with Puffin in order to reevaluate the language and ensure that Dahl’s stories can continue to be enjoyed by children today. Inclusive Minds, a group that works with inclusivity in children’s books, was also consulted when the changes were made. 

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However, the changes made by the company and Puffin  have already drawn some criticism.

Notable critics of the edits include writer Salman Rushdie and the British Prime Minister Rishi Sunak. 

In a tweet regarding the edits, Rushdie wrote: “Puffin Books and the Dahl estate should be ashamed… Roald Dahl was no angel, but this is absurd censorship.”

“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,” a spokesperson for Sunak said.

Dahl and his estate are no strangers to criticism and backlash. Dahl himself has been scrutinized after multiple comments prompted Abraham Foxman, former national director of the Anti-Defamation League, to call him a “blatant and admitted anti-Semite.”

Dahl’s complicated legacy lives on through his numerous children’s books, their screen adaptations and many more short stories and poems. More than 300 million copies of his books have been sold worldwide and have been translated into more than 50 languages. 

Author of The Golden Compass Philip Pullman said: “What are you going to do about them? All those words are still there. You going to round up all the books and cross them out with a big black pen?”

Members of Xavier’s campus community weighed in regarding the edits.

“Society is continually giving words much more meaning they need to be given,” sophomore marketing major Ari Nuñez said. “Fat should not be seen as a negative term. It is a descriptor. By changing fat to enormous it alludes to the fact that fat is indeed bad, and we should fear the word,” she added, regarding changes surrounding the character of Augustus Gloop.

Xavier English professor Lisa Ottum also commented on the changes from a different perspective. 

“It’s not great to subject kids to outmoded stereotypes, especially if we’re asking them to read certain things merely because adults feel nostalgic about them,” she said.

“We need to remember that it’s our responsibility as adults to mentor younger readers — to help them discuss and process what they’re reading,” Ottum continued.

Severe public backlash has caused Puffin to include both the revised versions and the original versions of Dahl’s books in their sales.