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Changes to Roald Dahl's books spark criticism: "Absurd censorship"

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

Changes to Roald Dahl's children's books have ignited a firestorm of criticism from authors, organizations and some readers online. 

The changes were approved by the Roald Dahl Story Company and the books' publisher, Puffin Books, and carried out by a sensitivity organization for children's books called Inclusive Minds, according to the Daily Telegraph, which first reported the revisions.

Dahl was the author behind such popular works as "Charlie and the Chocolate Factory," "Matilda," and "The Witches."

Roald Dahl
British novelist Roald Dahl (1916-1990), in 1971. Ronald Dumont / Stringer via Getty Images

The purpose of the changes is to ensure that Dahl's works "can continue to be enjoyed by all today," Puffin told the Telegraph.

Descriptions of characters as "fat," "ugly" and "crazy" have been removed from the works in an attempt to bolster body-positivity and more sensitive depictions of mental health. Some gendered descriptions have also been removed from the texts, changing what had previously been references to "boys and girls" as "people" or "children," reported the Telegraph, who also said that a previous description of the character Miss Trunchbull in "Matilda" as a "most formidable female" has been changed to a "most formidable woman."

The paper also reported that new passages, which were not written by Dahl, have been added to the texts. 

"In The Witches, a paragraph explaining that witches are bald beneath their wigs ends with the new line: 'There are plenty of other reasons why women might wear wigs and there is certainly nothing wrong with that,'" said the Telegraph.

CBS News has reached out to both Puffin Books and the Roald Dahl Story Company for comment.

The changes have been generating backlash among both readers and literary figures.

Author Salman Rushdie, who has been recovering after a stabbing attack last summer, wrote on Twitter, "Roald Dahl was no angel but this is absurd censorship."

"Puffin Books and the Dahl estate should be ashamed," Rushdie added.

Suzanne Nossel, CEO of PEN America — a nonprofit organization that "stands at the intersection of literature and human rights to protect open expression" — said the organization was "alarmed at news of 'hundreds of changes' to venerated works by [Roald Dahl] in a purported effort to scrub the books of that which might offend someone."

In a 13-tweet thread, Nossel went on to say that "selective editing to make works of literature conform to particular sensibilities could represent a dangerous new weapon," adding that so much of literature could be "construed as offensive to someone." 

"If we start down the path of trying to correct for perceived slights instead of allowing readers to receive and react to books as written, we risk distorting the work of great authors and clouding the essential lens that literature offers on society," Nossel wrote.

In 2020, the Dahl family issued an apology for antisemitic remarks made by the author during his lifetime, writing in a statement, "Those prejudiced remarks are incomprehensible to us and stand in marked contrast to the man we knew and to the values at the heart of Roald Dahl's stories, which have positively impacted young people for generations."

"We hope that, just as he did at his best, at his absolute worst, Roald Dahl can help remind us of the lasting impact of words," the statement continued. 

The statement appears to no longer be on the website of the Roald Dahl Story Company, which was acquired by Netflix in September, 2021.

Dahl's books have sold over 250 million copies, and his library spans 43 written works, including 20 children's books. Movie adaptations of his works have netted more than $750 million at the box office, according to WordsRated

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