Censorship of Roald Dahl overshadows books’ morals

As the debate of censorship continues, children’s book author Roald Dahl’s texts have become the next target. In hopes of expanding the inclusivity of Dahl’s works, phrases such as “fat” or “ugly” have been omitted or altered. The changes also seek to remove terms indicating the race or gender of characters. Puffin, the publisher of Dahl’s stories, defends their decision to preserve the worlds Dahl has created while making the words align with today’s societal standards.

Inside each newly edited Dahl book, it now states, “Words matter. The wonderful words of Roald Dahl can transport you to different worlds and introduce you to the most marvelous characters. This book was written many years ago, and so we regularly review the language to ensure that it can continue to be enjoyed by all today.”

There are two distinct sides to the argument. On one hand, some may argue that the changes made to these books were necessary to allow the next generation to enjoy these stories in the context of today. On the other hand, some believe that the editing of Dahl’s work takes the sympathy call too far and is unnecessary.

Suzanne Nossel, CEO of PEN America, tweeted earlier this month that “If we start down the path of trying to correct for perceived slights instead of allowing readers to receive and react to books as written, we risk distorting the work of great authors and clouding the essential lens that literature offers on society.” Formed in 1922, PEN America is a non-profit organization that works to prevent censorship and book bans.

“James and the Giant Peach” was published in 1961 and later inspired a film and a musical. Photo courtesy of AbeBooks.co.uk, Wikipedia

As someone who grew up reading “Matilda,” “James and The Giant Peach” and “The BFG,” the stories of Dahl instilled my early love of literature. While I recognize the troublesome nature of some works of the past, it is hard to imagine them being changed.

However, it must be recognized that the concepts being removed from Dahl’s text are taught ideals. A child is not born knowing what constitutes ugly against pretty or fat against skinny. These are matters that society introduces to the young mind and contributes to beliefs throughout life.

To expand this perspective to the overarching debate of censorship, sometimes it is best to leave the original work and acknowledge the context of the problems. Dahl wrote in a different time when societal expectations varied from that of today. We cannot erase his experiences or that of anyone else. We also cannot avoid the impact our history has on us today.

Rather than look at the past with intent to change or abolish it, our history should be acknowledged and used as an educational tool. Regarding more subjectively-used terms, they exist, and while it is preferred that they do not, children will be exposed to them eventually.

Instead of focusing so heavily on censoring others, lessons of kindness and love should be emphasized. Granted, the severity of each censorship case varies.

Censorship is a topic heavily debated in the current day and age. While focus has been shifted from what should be said to what should not be said, our priorities should lay in the messaging our children are taking away. The curiosity, kindness and inspiration Dahl’s stories create should not be overshadowed.



Featured photo courtesy of Rob Bogaerts / Anefo, Wikipedia