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Penguin to publish "classic" Roald Dahl books after "censorship" backlash

Roald Dahl books get controversial revisions
Roald Dahl books get some controversial revisions related to race, gender and other issues 04:37

Publisher Penguin Random House said Friday it will publish "classic" unexpurgated versions of Roald Dahl's children's novels after it faced a backlash over its plan to cut and rewrite sections of his books with the intention of making them suitable for modern readers.

The new editions, which remove passages related to weight, mental health, gender and race, will appear along with reprints of 17 of Dahl's books in their original form later, with the latter branded as "The Roald Dahl Classic Collection" so "readers will be free to choose which version of Dahl's stories they prefer."

The move comes after the changes sparked a backlash among both readers and literary figures, with author Salman Rushdie, who has been recovering after a stabbing attack last summer, writing on Twitter, "Roald Dahl was no angel but this is absurd censorship." Suzanne Nossel, CEO of PEN America, a nonprofit that protects writers and freedom of expression, said the organization was "alarmed" at the effort.

Penguin made the decision to publish the classic editions after the publisher "listened to the debate over the past week," said Francesca Dow, managing director of Penguin Random House Children's in a Friday statement.

In the edited versions, Augustus Gloop, Charlie's gluttonous antagonist in "Charlie and the Chocolate Factory" — originally published in 1964 — became "enormous" rather than "enormously fat." In "Witches," a supernatural female posing as an ordinary woman may be a "top scientist or running a business" instead of a "cashier in a supermarket or typing letters for a businessman."

The Roald Dahl Story Company, which controls the rights to the books, said it had worked with Puffin to review and revise the texts because it wanted to ensure that "Dahl's wonderful stories and characters continue to be enjoyed by all children today."

300 million copies sold

While tweaking old books for modern sensibilities is not a new phenomenon in publishing, the scale of the edits drew strong criticism from free-speech groups, readers and authors.

Camilla, the queen consort, appeared to offer her view at a literary reception on Thursday. She urged writers to "remain true to your calling, unimpeded by those who may wish to curb the freedom of your expression or impose limits on your imagination."

Dahl's books, with their mischievous children, strange beasts and often beastly adults, have sold more than 300 million copies and continue to be read by children around the world. Their multiple stage and screen adaptations include "Matilda the Musical" and two "Willy Wonka" films based on "Charlie and the Chocolate Factory," with a third in the works.

But Dahl, who died in 1990, is also a controversial figure because of antisemitic comments made throughout his life. His family apologized in 2020.

In 2021, Dahl's estate sold the rights to the books to Netflix, which plans to produce a new generation of films based on the stories.

"Roald Dahl's fantastic books are often the first stories young children will read independently, and taking care for the imaginations and fast-developing minds of young readers is both a privilege and a responsibility," Dow said in the statement on Friday.

"We also recognize the importance of keeping Dahl's classic texts in print," Dow added. "By making both Puffin and Penguin versions available, we are offering readers the choice to decide how they experience Roald Dahl's magical, marvelous stories."

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