Sanity has prevailed — well, a little. Last month, Puffin announced it had rewritten some of Roald Dahl’s works to remove language deemed offensive. The backlash was swift. Only a week-and-a-half passed before Puffin said it would publish a classic collection, i.e. Dahl’s actual works, but these new versions will include what are considered less offensive words (enormous instead of fat).
In some cases, whole phrases totally out of context from Dahl’s original words are shoehorned in for the purposes of message.
This is done under the guise of “sensitivity” and “inclusion.” Remember, Stalin removed people from photos to protect the “integrity” of the Revolution and haredi publications remove women from pictures to protect “modesty.” All four words in quotation marks are objectively positive; no matter, all censors claim they redact, rewrite or excise for good reason.
What is truly offensive to me is not the word “fat” or “men” or “ugly,” but the idea that a committee thinks it is capable of mimicking an artist’s individual expression. It is utterly degrading to the creative arts, to the concept that an artist’s output is a manifestation of his or her soul.
There’s a reason why Roald Dahl is beloved. He is one of the most imaginative children’s writers, creating quirky and memorable characters who are rude, adventurous, mean, dreamy, yes, sometimes ugly — in other words, a reflection of reality. He is honest, a quality that children deeply value and often find lacking in adults. Dahl’s talent is unique, not such that a committee can replicate simply because it is well intentioned.
These rewrites also expressly violate the author’s wishes. With tremendous foresight, in 1982 he told a friend that if his publishers ever changed his words, he would send his horrid “enormous crocodile to gobble them up.”
Here’s what baffles me. If you don’t like Dahl’s books, don’t read them, don’t buy them; heck, don’t even publish them. Yet, the orthodoxy of our times doesn’t allow for that level of tolerance. Choosing not to read or see or say something isn’t enough; we must forbid it or, worse, change it to suit our tastes.
This is not an environment that will cultivate creativity.
I do struggle with my love of Roald Dahl — not because of his words on paper, but because he was anti-Semitic. Yet I long ago decided that his literary magic outshone his beastliness, ironically — or perhaps a true reflection of himself — a key character trait of most of his villains.
Shana Goldberg may be reached at email@example.com
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