The works of iconic children’s author, Roald Dahl, have been facing criticism in recent weeks, following adjustments that have been made to his work regarding the appearance of some of his most beloved characters.
Dahl’s estate and publisher have recently updated such classic works as ‘Matilda’ and ‘Charlie and the Chocolate Factory’ to be more suitable for modern audiences.
Whilst some approve of the changes, others have not been so keen, with one critic saying that the ‘nastiness’ is what makes Dahl’s work ‘so much fun’.
Changes to Dahl’s extensive catalogue include the word ‘fat’, which has now been changed to ‘enormous’ in describing Augustus Gloop in ‘Charlie and the Chocolate Factory’.
Other changes include Mrs Twit, from ‘The Twits’, who is now simply described as ‘beastly’ instead of ‘ugly and beastly’.
Words such as ‘crazy’ and ‘mad’ have also been removed as a result of an emphasis on mental health, whilst a threat to ‘knock her flat’ in the iconic Matilda has now become ‘give her a right talk to’.
References to colour have also been under scrutiny.
The BFG’s coat is no longer black, and Mary in the ‘BFG’ now becomes ‘still as a statue’ instead of ‘white as a sheet’.
Donaghmore based author, Emma Heatherington, described Dahl’s work as ‘magical’, but also admits she ‘stumbled’ recently whilst revisiting the books with her youngest son.
“I have always been a huge fan of Roald Dahl,” says the writer. “His stories are magical, but I must admit that I stumbled a little when recently reading his books with my son.
“The idea of fat shaming and name calling is grotesque, and should not be encouraged.
“I wouldn’t say no to the modernisation of the content, as long as it doesn’t take away from the magic of his work.”
A spokesperson for Dahl’s company said it hoped ‘to ensure that Roald Dahl’s wonderful stories and characters continue to be enjoyed by all children today’.
Dahl died in 1990 at the age of 74, and still remains one of the UK’s most popular children’s authors.
Netflix bought the rights to his work in 2021, but anti-semitic comments made throughout his life have branded Dahl a ‘highly problematic’ figure.
His family apologised in 2020, saying that they recognised the lasting and understandable hurt caused by his controversial comments.
This is by no means the first time that a classic piece of literature has been adjusted to cater to a more contemporary audience. In the early 1800s, Thomas Bowdler rewrote certain works of Shakespeare aimed at a family-friendly audience, removing content he thought to be inappropriate.
Altered versions of numerous pieces of classic children’s literature were routinely published throughout the 20th century, such as ‘Alice in Wonderland’, ‘Little Women’ and ‘Gulliver’s Travels’.
In 1853, Charles Dickens wrote an essay entitled ‘Frauds on the Fairies’, in which he furiously criticised his friend, George Cruikshank, for retelling several fairy tales to incorporate an anti-alcohol message.
Enid Blyton’s books have also been updated for a modern audience, including the renaming of some of the characters from the Faraway Tree series.
Much like Dahl, Blyton also faced challenges from her publishers throughout her career, having had one book declined in 1960 for including echos of xenophobia.
This also isn’t the first time that Dahl’s work has been edited.
In 1973, he agreed to remove racist language from ‘Charlie and the Chocolate Factory’, originally published in 1964.
Dahl’s original portrayal of the beloved ‘Oompa-Loompas’ were heavily objected by the Nartional Association for the Advancement of Colored People, having originally been compared to ‘African pygmies’. In the original edition, Willy Wonka’s Oompa-Loompas were smuggled in cases containing air holes, which portrayed echos of the Gold Coast slave labour used to produce chocolate in the 19th century.
That same year, Doris Bass of Dahl’s US publishers, Alfred A Knopf, insisted that these changes did not amount to censorship, stating that, “It’s just about being ‘good people’, as one’s own awareness of other people’s feelings and needs is expanded.”
Following the reports of anti-semitism around the time of Dahl’s death, editors began the discussion regarding misogyny and racism in some of his other books, which eventually ended with his US publishers threatening to stop publishing his work. Alongside numerous contemporary authors, Dahl was listed in sixth place on the British Library Public Lending Rights children’s list of 2021, and, despite such controversy over the years, he remains one of the most popular children’s authors of the 20th century.
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