Roald Dahl Censoring Controversy

Can the censorship of Roald Dahl's books be justified after death? Here's Emma's argument for FOR censorship

Emma Hunter
6th March 2023
Image Credit: Flickr
If you look with a calm gaze past the furore that has exploded around publishing house Puffin’s decision to reword and make additions to parts of Roald Dahl’s books, you can see that its effects and intentions have been blown way out of proportion. They are at worst simply benign, and at best actually beneficial to readers.

Despite the fervent opinions of critics, authorial censorship is the last thing the revisions accomplish. Nothing is detracted from the main storylines, and the glorious, imaginative worlds that Dahl created and drew us all in as children remain as rich and sometimes terrifying as ever. In fact, the edits make this richness and irreverence accessible to readers who would otherwise be turned away. Imagine, at primary school age, already feeling uncomfortable with your body image then finding out Augustus Gloop is made to seem more villainous for being “fat”. Or being a girl feeling intimidated by the boys in your physics class only to hear that a witch posing as a woman is probably a “cashier in a supermarket or typing letters for a businessman”.

Puffin aimed to promote inclusion and diversity in children’s literature by publishing these versions, which it has. But beneath this, publishing houses are smart, and know their market well – it is not unforeseeable that libraries and schools would think twice about exposing children to Dahl’s books due to their offensive content anyway. They didn’t aim to censor, simply to move with the times – the shift is a cultural one. Would it be better for the books to be more sensitive, or not to be read at all?

And it is undeniable that parts of Dahl’s books are offensive. Their target audience are young and impressionable readers who risk not being able to recognise that the offensive nature stems from the author coming from a culture with completely different values to today. Their existence reinforces and subtly ingrains negative stereotypes that are clearly present in society today, particularly among older readers who were first exposed years ago, but also in younger generations. I’ve certainly had to work on myself to break down some of the biases learned at a young age, likely perpetuated by the books I read. Publishers should use their positions of cultural power and agency to help break down these harmful associations. Outdated views are for museums and history books, to prevent these views from being normalised.

A final thing to remember is that language changes are a standard part of editorial procedure. Heck, I’m sure the Courier’s wonderful editorial team will switch up some of what I’m writing now to make it suit its target audience better. Even when it was first published, Dahl’s content had to be changed due to objectionable aspects, such as turning Oompa Loompas from human pygmies from an African jungle (undeniably offensive) to the little orange creatures we recognise now.

The recent outrage is over something that happens multiple times a day across publishing houses – the only difference is that Dahl books already have a major presence in our culture and people are reluctant to see them change. But not only is it possible to simultaneously edit them sensitively and keep them relevant, the edits make them more culturally valuable. They keep their their integrity intact and prevent them from perpetuating dangerous stereotypes to an impressionable audience.

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