Penguin to publish ‘classic’ Roald Dahl books after backlash

Publisher Penguin Random House announced on February 24, 2023 that it will be publishing unexpurgated “classic” versions of Roald Dahl’s children’s novels after receiving criticism for cuts and rewrites aimed at making the books suitable for modern readers.
Along with the new editions, the company said 17 of Dahl’s books will be published in their original form later this year as “The Roald Dahl Classic Collection”, so “readers are free to choose which version of Dahl’s stories they prefer.” .

The move comes after criticism of dozens of changes made to “Charlie and the Chocolate Factory” and other much-loved classics to recent editions published under the company’s Puffin children’s imprint, in which passages related to weight, mental health, gender and race were removed. changed. .
Augustus Gloop, Charlie’s gluttonous antagonist in “Charlie and the Chocolate Factory” – originally published in 1964 – has become “enormous” instead of “enormously fat”. In “Witches,” an “old hag” became an “old crow,” and a supernatural woman posing as an ordinary woman might be a “top scientist or running a business” rather than a “cash in a supermarket or typing letters to a businessman.”

In “Fantastic Mr. Fox”, the word “black” was removed from a description of the “murderous and brutal looking” tractors.

The Roald Dahl Story Company, which owns the rights to the books, said it worked with Puffin to proofread and revise the texts because it wanted to ensure that “Dahl’s wonderful stories and characters continue to be enjoyed by all children today.”

While tailoring old books to modern sensibilities is not a new phenomenon in publishing, the scale of editions has drawn strong criticism from free speech groups such as the writers’ organization PEN America and authors such as Salman Rushdie.

Rushdie, who has lived under threat of death from Iran’s Islamic regime for years over the alleged blasphemy of his novel “The Satanic Verses”, called the revisions “absurd censorship”.

Rushdie, who was attacked and seriously injured last year at an event in upstate New York, tweeted the news of Penguin’s change of heart on Friday with the words “Penguin Books backs off after Roald Dahl backlash!”

PEN America chief executive Suzanne Nossel wrote on Twitter: “I applaud Penguin for listening to the critics, taking the time to rethink this and coming to the right place.”

Camilla, Britain’s queen consort, appeared to offer her opinion at a literary reception on Thursday. She urged writers to “remain true to their calling, unhindered by those who wish to restrict the freedom of their expression or impose limits on their imagination”.

Dahl’s books, with their mischievous children, strange beasts and often bestial adults, have sold over 300 million copies and continue to be read by children around the world. Her multiple stage and screen adaptations include “Matilda the Musical” and two “Willy Wonka” movies based on “Charlie and the Chocolate Factory”, with a third in the works.

But Dahl, who died in 1990, is also a controversial figure because of the anti-Semitic remarks he made throughout his life. His family apologized in 2020.

In 2021, Dahl’s estate sold the rights to the books to Netflix, which plans to produce a new generation of films based on the stories.

Francesca Dow, executive director of Penguin Random House Children’s, said the publisher “heard the debate last week, which reaffirmed the extraordinary power of Roald Dahl’s books and the real questions about how the stories of another era can be kept relevant to each new generation”.

“Roald Dahl’s fantastic books are often the first stories children read independently, and nurturing the imaginations and rapidly developing minds of young readers is both a privilege and a responsibility,” she said.

“We also recognize the importance of keeping Dahl’s classic texts in print,” said Dow. “By making Puffin and Penguin versions available, we give readers the choice to decide how they experience the magical and wonderful stories of Roald Dahl.”

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