Blogger Intellectual Freedom Committee

Changes to Roald Dahl’s Works Spark Controversy. Is it Right or Wrong?

The Roald Dahl Story Company, recently purchased by Netflix, has agreed to change the wording in 17 of Roald Dahl’s written works, after suggestions by consultants from Inclusive Minds, an organization that aims to represent a diverse society through books that foster “inclusivity, diversity, equality, and accessibility in children’s literature.” [Article here.]

Dahl authored the 17 works during the civil rights movement and throughout the following two decades. The changes would eliminate anything written about body weight, mental health, gender, and race.

Roald Dahl” by Queenie & the Dew is licensed under CC BY-NC 2.0.

On February 18, 2023, author Salman Rushdie took to Twitter saying, “Roald Dahl was no angel but this is absurd censorship. Puffin Books and the Dahl estate should be ashamed.” By changing these works, the books now represent a politically correct society where these books are considered more inclusive and suitable for today’s young readers. Are the changes censoring a time period of writing where it was historically okay to speak and write this way? Depending on who you talk to, the answer will be different. There is no black and white in books. There is always a little bit of gray, and that is where a good discussion comes. Some say the changing of words takes away the rawness of Dahl’s dark humor. Even Roald Dahl himself said he would never write another book if any of his words were changed. He died in 1990, and now look where his works stand.

The changing of Roald Dahl’s works brings back memories of the end of 2021 when Dr. Seuss’ estate decided to end the sale of six of his books that were considered to be offensive and racist. This was during what some consider the height of “cancel culture,” the process of not recognizing anyone who has used offensive words or actions that are deemed unacceptable. Cancel culture can be considered censorship in disguise. The use of social media can be used to scrutinize an author’s personal beliefs and lifestyle and deter against the actual quality of the work written. It could be said that some literature that was considered the most outstanding is now being killed and eliminated.

Penguin Random House made the decision to publish the 17 novels in their original form later this year, to be called “The Roald Dahl Classic Collection,” after much backlash and debate online the week after they announced the changes in the new versions of the works. The original and censored versions will be available and parents can choose which their child will read. The new versions are considered an updated version for the modern reader.

Even though Dahl himself is a controversial figure due to his anti-Semitic statements throughout his life, the big questions we are left with are:

  1. Is this censorship?
  2. If so, is it right or wrong?
  3. Should there be two versions of Roald Dahl’s books?
  4. If not, how do we have proper discussions with children about these works?

Are Roald Dahl’s works still children’s literature? Could they be considered adult literature? If they are considered adult literature, and then adapted for children, is it still censorship?

Today’s blog post was written by Ashley Martin, Galena Digital Branch Leader for the Floyd County Library in Indiana, on behalf of the ALSC Intellectual Freedom Committee. 

This post addresses the core competency of IV. Knowledge, Curation, and Management of Materials.

One comment

  1. Lucia Gonzalez

    In my opinion, censorship wears many masks. It is like the wolf in the story of the Seven Little Kids, disguising it’s voice by softening it… or it’s paws by covering them with flower. I can’t agree with any form of censorship. Changing the words of a writer is not the same as not publishing her/his work (as is the case of the Seuss books). The decision of the Seuss foundation to retire the titles is controversial (opposed and/or supported by many), but it does not involve changing the creator’s words. To me, if we approve of changing Dahl’s words we will soon also be approving defacing illustrations and even works of art to agree with the new times.

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