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    Wednesday, May 29, 2024

    Roald Dahl’s work

    Like the rest of the sane universe, we couldn’t believe the gall of Puffin U.K. when word came out that the publishing house and the Roald Dahl Story Co., the entity that manages his work, had conspired to make hundreds of changes to the writers’ iconic books.

    After sensitivity readers flagged language as objectionable, the Oompa Loompas in Willy Wonka’s chocolate factory aren’t “small men” anymore; they’re now “small people.” The chickens in “Fantastic Mr. Fox” are no longer “stupid.” Augustus Gloop isn’t “fat”; now he’s “enormous” (that’s better?). In “The Twits,” a language referred to as a “weird African language” is now simply an “African language.” In “The BFG,” the description of a character as having “reddish-brown” skin is now gone. In “The Witches,” a sentence is added: “There are plenty of other reasons why women might wear wigs and there is certainly nothing wrong with that.”

    Because these novels would still say “By Roald Dahl” on the covers, this is nothing more than putting words in — and taking them out of — a dead man’s mouth.

    A play or movie or TV show or graphic novel or theme park ride based on Dahl is free to take liberties. Nor are we opposed to creators producing works for multiple audiences. With J.K. Rowling’s permission, the Harry Potter books use some different language in their U.K. and U.S. editions. We know of at least one girl who enjoys “New York State of Mind” with the clean, rather than the explicit, lyrics.

    But in free and democratic society, paintings are not painted over — no matter how far out of favor those artists have fallen. Mark Twain put the N-word in “Huckleberry Finn” very much on purpose; to remove it now is both to miss the point and to sanitize history.

    Friday, in an attempt to quell the furor, Dahl’s craven publisher said it would release the original stories as a “Classic Collection” alongside the updated editions. We’d recommend adding a trigger warning: The pages can cause paper cuts.

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