Philip Pullman suggests Roald Dahl books should go ‘out of print’ amid edits controversy

Dahl’s children’s books are being rewritten to remove language deemed offensive by Puffin

Annabel Nugent
Monday 20 February 2023 10:22 GMT
Philip Pullman addresses controversial Roald Dahl edits

Philip Pullman has said publishers should let Road Dahl’s books go “out of print” rather than attempt to edit his work to make it less controversial.

The His Dark Materials author, 76, made the remark during a discussion about Dahl on BBC Radio 4 on Monday (20 February).

Last week, an investigation by The Telegraph found that Dahl’s children’s books are being rewritten to remove language considered offensive by Puffin.

The word “fat” , for example, has been removed from every book. Augustus Gloop in Charlie and the Chocolate Factory is instead described as “enormous”.

Puffin said the move has been made to ensure that they “can continue to be enjoyed by all today”.

Similarly, the Oompa-Loompas are described as “small people” with the descriptors such as “tiny” and “titchy” no longer appearing in the text.

The news was the subject of discussion on Radio 4 on Monday (20 February).

Host Justin Webb asked Pullman what altering “words like this” does “to the literature aspect” of the books.

Philip Pullman

Pullman replied: “It doesn’t do anything very much. If it does offend us, let him go out of print.

“That’s what I’d say. Read Phil Earle, SF Said, Frances Hardinge, Michael Morpurgo, Malorie Blackman. Read Mini Grey, Helen Cooper, Jaqueline Wilson, Beverley Naidoo.

“Read all these wonderful authors who are writing today who don’t get as much of a look-in because of the massive commercial gravity of people like Roald Dahl.”

Webb asked Pullman whether the books should still exist “in their original form” and be “allowed to fade away in people’s reading habits because they no longer reflect the modern world”.

“They’re not going to vanish because they’re still going to be around for years and years,” said Pullman. “They should be allowed to fade away. Let him go out of print.”

Roald Dahl

Fellow guest, journalist Anna Leszkiewicz, said that it was not a coincidence that these changes are happening around the time that Netflix have purchased the rights to the Roald Dahl story company.

“There’s clearly a desire to sort of sanctify and whiteash his legacy,” said Leszkiewicz.

Webb questioned Pullman again on whether there was “literary damage” done when a text is “bowdlerised in this way, and reduced in this way and made less spiky in this way”.

“Well, if a book is a great book like Oliver Twist, for example. But we’re not talking about that are we?” said Pullman.

“We’re talking about popular children’s fiction. Dahl’s books aren’t classics in that sense. As I say, let them fade away. Read better writers.”

The decision to edit Dahl’s book has been called “absurd” by Salman Rushdie.

“Roald Dahl was no angel but this is absurd censorship,” wrote the author. “Puffin Books and the Dahl estate should be ashamed.”

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