When I was young, some of my favorite books were written by Roald Dahl. Far too often, children’s literature is bland and boneless. Dahl’s stories were filled with grotesque figures, tart-tongued narrators, and real danger and consequences.
Which is why I feel some sadness that new editions of Dahl’s work have been edited to remove some of Dahl’s distinctive language, presumably in an attempt to reduce the chances that someone, somewhere will find them offensive. Characters like the gluttonous Augustus Gloop from Charlie in the Chocolate Factory can no longer be called fat. Witches can no longer be called ugly.
You can read more about the edits here:
I am sad for new readers who won’t have a chance to read the real words of a great artist, though I don’t doubt they’ll still enjoy his wonderful books.
But I also think it is strange that so many are feigning outrage, simply because of the side they’ve chosen to take in an ongoing culture war. Netflix bought the Roald Dahl Story Company last year, and controls all the IP. And while the books are integral parts of the childhoods of many people like me, who read them decades ago, Netflix is surely more concerned about turning Dahl’s imagination into television and movies, and protests about the contents of his books would have threatened that potential gold mine.
This is simply capitalism at work, as the owner of a valuable asset takes steps to protect that asset. Why aren’t the same people protesting the bowdlerization of the great Christmas classic Die Hard, since John McClane never gets to say, “Yippee kay yay, motherfucker!” on TV broadcasts?
Moreover, Dahl himself edited his work as times changed. My childhood copy of “Charlie and Chocolate Factory” features his original text, in which the Oompa-Loompas were African pygmy tribespeople who had to survive on mashed-up caterpillars, and jumped at Willy Wonka’s offer to house them in his factory and pay them in cacao beans and chocolate. The problems with that are pretty obvious, and Dahl rewrote his classic book, and the movie featured orange Oompa-Loompas without any noticeable detriment to the storytelling.
The reactionary side of the culture war is unhappy about the edits, but I don’t think their outrage is on behalf of children’s literature. Some is the usual performative grifting, but the other unspoken reason is that they are losing the culture war they started. Multi-billion dollar corporations give in to “woke” pressure because that’s where the money is. And they have no problem running “conservative” shows like Yellowstone because they are money makers. To change this, reactionaries need to convince audiences and creators to change their tastes, or better yet, produce content (like Yellowstone) that more people enjoy.