Characters can be “enormous” but not “fat.” They can be “small” but not “tiny.” Women can be “kind” but not “attractive” and “ugly” but not “fearfully” so. There can be children, but they cannot be “boys and girls.”
Roald Dahl’s children’s books are undergoing a face-lift. Dahl’s works, which include classics such as Charlie and the Chocolate Factory, Matilda, The BFG, Fantastic Mr. Fox, James and the Giant Peach, and more, are no longer acceptable in this day and age, at least according to Netflix, which acquired his literary estate in 2021.
Netflix and publisher Puffin are working together with a team of “sensitivity readers” (i.e., censors) to scrub Dahl’s colorful works of anything that might offend adult sensibilities. This effort, according to Puffin, ensures that Dahl’s books “can continue to be enjoyed by all today.” And by all, they mean the women’s studies majors and the critical race theorists who were heretofore embarrassed to have such passe works as Charlie and the Chocolate Factory nestled in their children’s shelves between copies of Antiracist Baby.
Puffin has reportedly been working on this project since 2020, and its sensitivity review has already produced hundreds of changes.
Fantastic Mr. Fox evidently didn’t pass the Bechdel Test because all three of the fox’s sons have become daughters. In a racially confusing twist, it’s bad to be “white” but not “pale.” And heaven forbid that tractors, which have never studied a day of critical race theory in their lives, be described as “black.”
Dahl’s classic line, “You can have a wonky nose and a crooked mouth and a double chin and stick-out teeth, but if you have good thoughts they will shine out of your face like sunbeams,” has been stripped of its “double chin,” meaning presumably we’re not allowed to say double chins are ugly but that we can still pass judgment on people’s noses.
Fortunately, these changes have already sparked outrage in the literary world. “Matthew Dennison, Dahl’s biographer, said that the author — who died in 1990 — chose his vocabulary with care,” reports the Telegraph. “‘I’m almost certain that he would have recognized that alterations to his novels prompted by the political climate were driven by adults rather than children,’ he said.”
Even PEN America took a break from its handwringing over hyperbolic claims of a book-banning epidemic to trash the publisher’s decision. CEO Suzanne Nossel tweeted, “We are alarmed at news of ‘hundreds of changes’ to venerated works by [Dahl] in a purported effort to scrub the books of that which might offend someone.” She continued, “Amidst fierce battles against book bans and strictures on what can be taught and read,” — OK, not much of a break from the book-banning scare — “selective editing to make works of literature conform to particular sensibilities could represent a dangerous new weapon.”
Each year, some 1 million copies of Dahl’s books are sold. His books have had a cultural impact of which most writers can only dream. Now, his works will no longer be his own, picked apart by a team of “experts” whose only goal is to please the other adults at their dinner parties rather than to benefit children.
What this teaches young people is that adults’ feelings are more important than their education. (I wonder where we’ve seen that play out before.) It’s bad enough that some have tried to cancel Dahl’s works because of the author’s personal, objectionable views. Now, they’re arguing that his turns of phrase are offensive, too?
No matter what adults say, however, children should be able to read good literature — double chins and all.