Salman Rushdie leads criticism of ‘absurd’ Roald Dahl censorship

Author of ‘The Satanic Verses’ has condemned the changes in a message posted on social media

Nicole Vassell
Sunday 19 February 2023 12:35 GMT
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Salman Rushdie has spoken out against recent reports that passages have been rewritten in some of Roald Dahl’s books to remove language that may be considered offensive.

A report on Friday 17 February detailed some of the changes made to the author’s work after feedback from sensitivity readers.

One example of a change made to Charlie and the Chocolate Factory is that Augustus Gloop is now described as “enormous” rather than “fat”. Elsewhere, a character in The Twits, Mrs Twit, is now just described as “beastly” rather than “ugly and beastly”, according to The Daily Telegraph.

Rushdie is one of several literary figures to express disapproval about the changes made to the children’s books. Reacting on Twitter, the Satanic Verses author wrote on Saturday (18 February): “Roald Dahl was no angel but this is absurd censorship. Puffin Books and the Dahl estate should be ashamed.”

Comedian David Baddiel posted a screenshot of one of the changes to a passage in The Twits. Though the version republished in 2001 reads: “You can have a wonky nose and a crooked mouth and a double chin and stick-out teeth”, the new edit takes out the reference to a “double chin”.

“The problem with the Dahl bowdlerisation is it has no logical consistency,” Baddiel commented. “Here, double chin has been cut, presumably to avoid fat shaming. But what about wonky nose or crooked teeth shaming? Once you start on this path you can end up with blank pages.”

American author Michael Shellenberger also criticised the changes, deeming the edits to Dahl’s words an example of “totalitarian censorship”.

“The publisher of the books of the late Roald Dahl has made hundreds of changes to them, supposedly to make them more palatable to ‘sensitive’ audiences,” he wrote. “This is totalitarian censorship and should be broadly condemned by authors & publishers.”

Another figure who has spoken out against the changes is Suzanne Nossel, the CEO of literature and human rights organisation PEN America. In a multi-tweet thread on the topic, she detailed her qualms over the changes made to Dahl’s books.

“The problem with taking license to re-edit classic works is that there is no limiting principle,” one of her tweets reads. “You start out wanting to replace a word here and a word there, and end up inserting entirely new ideas (as has been done to Dahl’s work).”

Salman Rushdie and Roald Dahl

When approached by The Independent, the Roald Dahl Story Company noted that the review had been ongoing since 2020, and was taking place in collaboration with Inclusive Minds, “a collective for people who are passionate about inclusion and accessibility in children’s literature”.

“We want to ensure that Roald Dahl’s wonderful stories and characters continue to be enjoyed by all children today,” the statement reads. “When publishing new print runs of books written years ago, it’s not unusual to review the language used, alongside updating other details including a book’s cover and page layout.

“Our guiding principle throughout has been to maintain the storylines, characters, and the irreverence and sharp-edged spirit of the original text. Any changes made have been small and carefully considered.”

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