The word "fat" no longer exists. Neither do white, black, attractive, or feminine. Or at least that's the case in the latest editions of Roald Dahl's work, published by Puffin Books. The company hired a team of "sensitivity editors" in 2020 to scrub children's classics of "offensive" language, according to an investigation by British media outlet The Telegraph. The extensive censorship has resulted in hundreds of changes to avoid or soften language linked to mental health, gender, weight, and race.
The publishing house is part of Penguin Random House, a company headquartered in New York, which operates in more than 20 countries. A spokesman for the Roald Dahl Company, which collaborated with Puffin, defended the changes:
When reprinting books written years ago, it is not unusual to revise the language and update other details such as the cover. All changes were small and carefully considered.
Changing "the wonderful words of Roald Dahl"
Although the editions were produced by the multinational's British subsidiary, they can be easily purchased in the United States, even on Amazon. Those who do so will be warned in the first pages of these alterations:
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.
In Charlie and the Chocolate Factory, for example, the Umpa Lumpa's gender has been removed. They have gone from being "little men" to "little people." In Matilda, Tronchatoro's "big horse face" is now just a "face."
Last year, the American Library Association reported that rewriting and even banning children's books is a growing phenomenon both in North America and around the globe. The attempt to ban nearly 2,000 books in 2022 was the largest number recorded in the last 20 years when the organization began the measure.
One of the most controversial cases was when a Tennessee school board removed the graphic novel Maus from the school curriculum. The novel which tells the story of how the author's parents survived the Holocaust was banned for having insults and nudity, with no consideration for the fact that the comic is about mice.