‘Sensitivity readers’ reword children’s author Roald Dahl’s best-selling stories
Words like 'fat' and 'ugly' have been removed and Oompa Loompa's and 'cloud men' are now gender neutral.
Pictures – Penguin Random House South Africa.
Changes made to best-selling children’s author Roald Dahl have sparked mixed reactions.
Dahl’s Publisher, Puffin, a subsidiary of Penguin Books, apparently in collaboration with children’s books organisation Inclusive Minds, reworded current editions of some of Dahl’s most popular stories.
According to a report by The Guardian, words like ‘fat’ and ‘ugly’ have since been removed from the stories: For example, Charlie and the Chocolate Factory’s Augustus Gloop is now “enormous” instead of “enormously fat”.
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While Mrs Twit from In The Twits, is no longer “ugly and beastly” but just “beastly”.
Matilda’s Miss Trunchbull was previously described as a “most formidable female”; that has now been changed to a “most formidable woman”.
‘Men’ have also been swapped out for ‘people’ in two books: The small orange men in Charlie and Chocolate Factory are now ‘small people’, and the ‘cloud men’ from James and the Giant Peach, are now ‘cloud people’.
Puffin also included a disclaimer in the newly printed editions: “Words matter. The wonderful words of Roald Dahl can transport you to different worlds and introduce you to marvellous characters. This book was written many years ago, so we regularly review the language to ensure that it can continue to be enjoyed by all today”.
The revisions were worked in by ‘sensitivity readers’ from Inclusive Minds. The organisation is “a collective for people passionate about inclusion, diversity, equality and accessibility in children’s literature, and are committed to changing the face of children’s books”.
The changes resulted in a divided opinion, with some labelling the rewriting as censorship.
Booker prizewinner Salman Rushdie tweeted that Puffin “should be ashamed”.
Even British Prime Minister Rishi Sunak entered the conversation saying, ‘literature and works of fiction are preserved and not airbrushed’.
On Monday, Sunak’s official spokesperson said: “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”.
While others have called for Dahl’s work to fade into history and allow modern children’s writers to occupy that space with work more suited to the times.
Author Philip Pullman reportedly suggested that children should read “better” authors.
“Let him go out of print,” the author of His Dark Materials told BBC Radio 4’ Today programme on Monday.
“People should instead explore writers such as Malorie Blackman, Michael Morpurgo and Beverley Naidoo.
“Read all of these 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.”
Pullman added that Dahl’s work, if left alone, would neither disappear overnight nor be substantially changed in the public’s consciousness because of the vast number of existing editions.