Novelist Salman Rushdie on Monday condemned the re-editing of Roald Dahl’s children’s books for modern audiences, calling it “absurd censorship” by the “bouldering sensitivity police”.
Publisher Puffin has made hundreds of alleged changes to the characters and language in Dahl’s stories, including making the Oompa-Loompas in “Charlie and the Chocolate Factory” gender neutral and calling Augustus Gloop heavy instead of fat.
Mrs. Twit in “The Twits” is also no longer ugly, but Beastly instead, while the Cloud-Men in “James and the Giant Peach” are now “Cloud-People”.
The criticism comes amid a growing trend for publishers to employ so-called “sensitivity readers,” who work with editors to identify references to gender, race, weight, violence or mental health that may offend readers. .
A spokeswoman for the Netflix-owned Roald Dahl Story Company, which controls the rights to the books, said it was not unusual for publishers to “review the language used” for new print runs and that its guiding principle was to maintain was to strive for “the irreverent and sharp-edged spirit of the original text”.
But the edits sparked a wave of criticism.
Mr Rushdie, who went into hiding for years because of a fatwa calling for his death over his 1988 book “The Satanic Verses”, said Dahl was a “self-confessed anti-Semite” with clear racist leanings , and they joined the attack on me back in 1989.
He wrote on Twitter, “Roald Dahl was no angel, but this is blatant censorship. Shame on Puffin Books and the Dahl estate.”
Dahl’s books have sold over 250 million copies worldwide.
Some of his most popular stories have been turned into blockbuster movies like last year’s “Matilda the Musical” and “The BFG” (2016), which was directed by Steven Spielberg.
‘Dirty, Colorful Glory’
Suzanne Nosel, head of the free-speech organization PEN America, said she was “concerned” by the edits.
“In the midst of a fierce battle against book banning and strictures on what can and should be read, selective editing to tailor works of literature to particular sensibilities may represent a dangerous new weapon.
“Those who might encourage specific editing of Dahl’s work should consider how the power to rewrite books can be exercised in the hands of those who do not share his values and sensibilities “
Nosel said that one of the problems with the re-editing tasks was that “setting out to remove any context you might have undercuts the power of the storytelling.”
“His Dark Materials” author Philip Pullman takes aim at the influence of sensitivity readers on young writers.
He noted that less established writers “find it hard to resist the inclination to say or not to say.
“If Dahl offends us, let him go out of print,” he told BBC Radio, adding that millions of Dahl’s books with the original text would remain in circulation for many years, regardless of changes in new editions.
Others have highlighted how the “bad” elements of Dahl’s stories actually make them popular among children.
Laura Hackett, deputy literary editor at The Sunday Times newspaper, called the changes “botched surgery” and vowed on Twitter to keep her original copies so her children could “enjoy them in their full, spoiled, colorful glory”.
Even Prime Minister Rishi Sunak took part in the debate.
His spokesman told reporters: “The prime minister agrees with the BFG that you should not mince words.”
The expression – meaning to play around – is a reference to a line spoken by the large friendly giant in the book.
(Except for the headline, this story has not been edited by NDTV staff and is published from a syndicated feed.)
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