Rishi Sunak has condemned the rewriting of Roald Dahl’s children’s books, quoting the Big Friendly Giant’s warning not to “gobblefunk” with words.
The prime minister joined the row over the rewriting of Dahl’s children’s books to remove language deemed offensive, a move which has been branded “absurd censorship” by author Sir Salman Rushdie.
Content deemed offensive such as references to weight, mental health, violence, gender and race were removed or rewritten.
Mr Sunak’s spokesperson said: “When it comes to our rich and varied literary heritage, the PM agrees with the BFG that you shouldn’t ‘gobblefunk’ around with words.”
They added: “I think it’s important that works of literature and works of fiction are preserved and not airbrushed. We have always defended the right to free speech and expression.”
Booker Prize winner Sir Salman said the publishers, Puffin Books and the Roald Dahl Story Company, “should be ashamed”.
He tweeted: “Roald Dahl was no angel but this is absurd censorship.”
The publishers said they had carried out a review of Dahl’s classics to ensure they can be enjoyed by all children.
Some of the edits reportedly include removing the word “fat” from every book, with Augustus Gloop in Charlie and The Chocolate Factory instead being described as “enormous”.
Suzanne Nossel, CEO of PEN America, a community of more than 7,000 writers advocating for freedom of expression, tweeted to say she was “alarmed” by the reported changes and warned the power to rewrite books could be abused.
She added: “Amidst fierce battles against book bans and strictures on what can be taught and read, selective editing to make works of literature conform to particular sensibilities could represent a dangerous new weapon.
“Those who might cheer specific edits to Dahl’s work should consider how the power to rewrite books might be used in the hands of those who do not share their values and sensibilities.”
Edits to Roald Dahl’s classics
Hundreds of edits have reportedly been made to the latest editions of Roald Dahl’s classics.
A report in the Daily Telegraph compared the latest editions with earlier versions of the texts.
It found language concerning weight, mental health, violence, gender and race had been either cut or rewritten.
The Cloud-Men in James and the Giant Peach are now the Cloud-People, while references to Rudyard Kipling and Joseph Conrad in Matilda had been changed to Jane Austen and John Steinbeck.
In The Witches, a reference to women “working as a cashier in a supermarket or typing letters for a businessman” has been changed to “working as a top scientist or running a business”.
In James and the Giant Peach, Miss Sponge is no longer described as “the fat one”, Miss Spider’s head is no longer “black” and the Earthworm no longer has “lovely pink” skin but “lovely smooth skin”.
In The Twits, Mrs Twit is no longer described as ugly and beastly but just beastly.
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‘Small and carefully considered’ edits
The Roald Dahl Story Company claim their review process has been ongoing since 2020 and any edits are “small and carefully considered”.
They worked with Puffin and Inclusive Minds, a collective for people working towards inclusion and accessibility in children’s literature.
A spokesperson for the Roald Dahl Story Company said: “We want 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.
“Our guiding principle throughout has been to maintain the storylines, characters, and the irreverence and sharp-edged spirit of the original text.”
Dahl’s antisemitic comments
Dahl died aged 74 in 1990. While considered one of the nation’s favourite authors, he was controversial due to antisemitic comments made throughout his life.
His family apologised in 2020, saying they recognised the “lasting and understandable hurt caused by Roald Dahl’s antisemitic statements”.