Salman Rushdie, Rishi Sunak condemn Roald Dahl rewrites

By, Delhi
Feb 21, 2023 02:16 PM IST

Children's author Roald Dahl is known for such famous books as "Charlie and the Chocolate Factory" and "Matilda." But the latest editions have reportedly been changed.

A spokesman for UK Prime Minister Rishi Sunak used a phrase from a Roald Dahl book to comment on the apparent censorship of Dahl's works on Monday. "When it comes to our rich and varied literary heritage, the prime minister agrees with the BFG that you shouldn't gobblefunk around with words," said a spokesman for UK Prime Minister Rishi Sunak on Monday. The word "gobblefunk" was coined by Dahl to mean playing around with words and used in his book The BFG also known as The Big Friendly Giant.

Dahl passed away in 1990. (Everett Collection/IMAGO)
Dahl passed away in 1990. (Everett Collection/IMAGO)

Separately, renowned author Salman Rushdie also called out the "absurd censorship" on the part of publishers Puffin books and the Netflix-owned Dahl estate.

Rushdie pointed out that Dahl was an extremely flawed person, including being a "confessed antisemite," but maintained that the way the edits had been carried out was nonsensical.

'Ugly' and 'fat' no more

On Friday, British newspaper The Telegraph highlighted changes made to the most recent editions of Dahl's works including bestsellers Matilda, Charlie and the Chocolate Factory, and The Twits.

Also Read | 10 quotes by Roald Dahl that’ll take you down memory lane; lesser-known facts about the author and more

For example, in Matilda, a reference to pro-imperial writer Rudyard Kipling has been replaced with a reference to US author John Steinbeck. Charlie and the Chocolate Factory's Augustus Gloop is no longer "enormously fat," but rather "enormous," and The Twits Mrs. Twit is no longer "ugly and beastly," but simply "beastly."

The Oompa-Loompas of Willy Wonka's chocolate factory and other made-up creations of Dahl's have been edited to become gender neutral.

Users on social media also claimed that there appeared to be removals of the colour adjective black to refer to things such as tractors and a spider's head.

'Botched surgery'

Commentators on various sides of the political spectrum decried the changes. Suzanne Nossel, head of PEN America, said she was "alarmed" by the move.

"Amidst fierce battles against book bans and strictures on what can be taught and read, selective editing to make works of literature conform to particular sensibilities could represent a dangerous new weapon," she said. "Those who might cheer specific edits to Dahl's work should consider how the power to rewrite books might be used in the hands of those who do not share their values and sensibilities."

Philip Pullman, author of the acclaimed children's series His Dark Materials, said that a better tactic would be that "if Dahl offends us, let him go out of print."

Others, such as Sunday Times deputy literary editor Laura Hackett pointed out that Dahl books were known for their bite. Calling the changes "botched surgery," she vowed to keep her older editions so that her children could enjoy them in "their full, nasty, colourful glory."

Born in Wales to parents who had immigrated from Norway, Dahl served in World War II before rising to prominence as a writer for both children and adults.

In 2020, his family apologized for anti-Semitic remarks the author had made, calling it "incomprehensible."

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