Dahl Gets Roald

Yes, it’s Letters Week here at the maths blog. Along with libraries “decolonising” their collections, we had Penguin Books deciding that Roald Dahl’s stories required some nice-ing, with words such as “ugly” and “fat” being replaced with gentler ways of describing Dahl’s ugly and fat characters. Thank God we have such thoughtful and brave defenders of our literary traditions.

There’s not much to say about this one, but it’s so stupid you gotta say something. To be honest, we’re not a huge fan of Dahl’s stories. Our daughters love them, at least the good ones, but the stories, although great, are a bit too mean for us. But that is the point: having Dahl without the meanness is like having The Texas Chainsaw Massacre without the massacre.

Notably, Penguin has pulled a Coke Classic, and have just announced the “Classic” Dahl books will still be printed. Which kind of fixes it, although the neutered Dahls will still be around, at least for now, and Penguin still looks like a team of unprincipled clowns, and the defenders of Penguin’s initial idiocy are in a No Man’s Land of their own making.

We’ll just make the one, obvious point: Roald Dahl. Dahl created these works, and this should be respected, it should be kept in mind how Dahl felt about his work. And, what would Dahl have thought about Penguin de-meaning his works in such a manner? It’s a fair bet that he’d have described it all with words that Penguin would consider unprintable.



12 Replies to “Dahl Gets Roald”

  1. I have a major issue with altering anyone’s writing and then publishing it using their name. I do not make a distinction between articles in peer-reviewed journals, letters to a newspaper or complete books.

    However, it is my understanding that the “managers” of Roald’s estate “gave their approval” for books to be published with changes, so to a very large extent I feel that a lot of this is a money-making exercise. Legal? Looks like it. Moral? Debatable.

    Will debate about the ethics of the matter sell more books? Maybe. It is largely free advertising at least.

  2. a wee misspelling of dahl’s name, first line, last para. and nice hyphen in de-meaning.
    (dont bother posting this comment…)

  3. Are these censors aware that anyone of any age can walk into Dymocks, make their way over to the classics section and have a read of The 120 Days of Sodom at their own pleasure?

  4. I remember when I tried to buy a computer game of chess for my grandchildren when they were young. Their parents were quite strict on what they watched and I always respected their stand. So I went into a shop that sold computer games – but there was no version of chess that was rated G. They were all M or higher. I asked “Why is this? It’s only chess.” The shop assistant told me – “It’s all about how the captures take place.”

    Sometime, look at the original “Dambusters” movie made in 1955. What is the name of the Wing Commander’s dog?

    1. Considering the animated violence that only gets an 8+ rating these days… that must have been quite some violent chess moves!

      What is more worrying is that I think it was the version that was secretly passed around on 5 1/4 diskettes when I was in school…

  5. From what I can tell, the language changes seem to have practically no effect on how mean the books essentially are. Fat villains can be enormous, but that just makes them “enormous” villains. Who thinks that that is any better or less stigmatising to fat people?

  6. Personally, I don’t have a problem with this. They weren’t censoring as such – just publishing a new edition. I think it is almost inevitable when books become classics that different versions appear.

    For example, there are many versions of the Wizard of Oz. There are details about the Tin Woodman’s back story that often get left out (where he has a relationship with a munchkin girl and is cursed to chop off his arms and legs).

    Similarly, there are so many different versions of fairy tales. I find it fun to see how stories are adjusted after changing a minor detail for whatever reason. I once read that in the original Snow White story, a step-mother didn’t feature. Instead it was a narcissistic mother. She wished for the most beautiful child (as a kind of accessory to her own loveliness) but then resented her daughter as she grew up and became a rival. Apparently, the Grimm brothers chose to change that because they wanted to create a book that parents would enjoy reading to their children.

    It seems like the new editions have been a good excuse for people to talk about Roald Dahl books a lot.

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