Critics blast ‘absurd’ rewrites to Roald Dahl’s children’s books

Roald Dahl

A half-century after being published, several children’s books by world-famous British author Roald Dahl are being revised to change language that may be offensive to some, sparking accusations of censorship.

Some words related to weight, gender and race were omitted or replaced.

The “enormously fat” 9-year-old boy in “Charlie and the Chocolate Factory” became “enormous,” and the “Cloud-Men” from “James and the Giant Peach” became “Cloud-People.”

Miss Trunchbull, the principal in “Matilda,” no longer has a “horsey” face, and “eight nutty little idiots” are now just “eight nutty little boys.”

Britain’s Telegraph newspaper first reported the changes Friday, laying out the hundreds of changes Puffin Books, a division of Penguin Random House, and the Roald Dahl Story Company made to the books since 2020, even adding paragraphs never written by the late Dahl.

Award-winning author Salman Rushdie called the changes “absurd censorship.”

“Puffin Books and the Dahl estate should be ashamed,” Rushdie, who lived in hiding for many years after Iran’s then-supreme leader issued a fatwa calling for his death because of alleged blasphemy in the novel “The Satanic Verses,” said in a tweet.

The Indian-born author has largely been absent from public appearances after he was stabbed on stage at a lecture in New York last August.

“We can’t start rewriting works of literature because it suits our so-called moral code,” Scottish actor Brian Cox told the Times Radio.

Puffin Books did not respond to NBC News’ request for a comment.

Roald Dahl
British writer Roald Dahl in 1971. Ronald Dumont / Hulton Archive / Getty Images

For its part, the Roald Dahl Story Company said it wanted to “ensure that Roald Dahl’s wonderful stories and characters continue to be enjoyed by all children today.”

“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,” a spokesperson told NBC News.

Dahl, who died in 1990 at the age of 74, remains popular with young readers around the globe. Several of his books and characters have been adapted into movies and stage shows, such as “Matilda,” Willy Wonka and “The Witches,” among others.

His books have been translated into 63 languages and sold more than 300 million copies worldwide, with his fans largely celebrating the use of satirical and sometimes dark language that tapped into children’s humor.

In 2021, Netflix bought Dahl’s works amid stiff competition from other streaming giants such as Disney+ and HBO Max. The Roald Dahl Story Company told NBC News that the modifications began before the deal with Netflix was closed and it was co-led with Puffin Books.

Dahl, who has long been a controversial figure, was accused of racism, misogyny and antisemitism over comments made throughout his life. Even decades after his death, his family apologized in 2020 for “the lasting and understandable hurt caused by Roald Dahl’s antisemitic statements.”

PEN America, a New York-based community of over 7,500 writers advocating for freedom of expression, said it was “alarmed” by the “purported effort to scrub the books of that which might offend someone.”

“Selective editing to make works of literature conform to particular sensibilities could represent a dangerous new weapon,” Suzanne Nossel, the organization’s chief, said in a tweet Saturday.

Associated Press contributed.

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