The author Roald Dahl, who lived from 1916 to 1990, was certainly a... product of his times. He wrote numerous things that were antisemitic or, at very least, were antisemitic-adjacent. The same is true of sexism, racism, and colonialism, among other attitudes that are less-than-savory these days.
Still, Dahl remains a very popular children's author, in no small part due to the many movie adaptations of his books. Last year, the literary estate of Dr. Seuss withdrew a couple of his books from circulation because they are no longer PC. That won't work so well for Dahl, as pretty much all of his books are tinged with the various -isms that aren't OK today. And so, his literary estate announced yesterday that they have partnered with Inclusive Minds, which describes itself as "a collective for people who are passionate about inclusion and accessibility in children's literature," to rewrite portions of Dahl's books.
Here's a list of some of the changes that are being made:
This is just a partial list; the complete accounting of the changes runs to hundreds of items.
We are assuming, per the headline, that at least one Fox personality railed against this news last night. We don't have the stomach to check, but we think we are on safe ground with that guess. It's also probably 90% that, sometime this week, Gov. Ron DeSantis (R-FL) will be announcing new legislation banning updated versions of Dahl books from Florida schools. We do know that British PM Rishi Sunak has already blasted the changes.
We have to say, we are basically with Sunak on this. Yes, there are some artifacts of the past best left in the past (e.g., Confederate statues). But materially altering someone's art? As many prominent authors (particularly Salman Rushdie) noted yesterday, that's pretty icky. It's like painting clothes on the people who occupy the ceiling of the Sistine Chapel, or making the merchant of Venice into the bishop of Venice, or erasing Jim from Huckleberry Finn, or waiting until Paul McCartney has passed away and then changing the lyric from "Well, she was just seventeen" to "Well, she had just turned nineteen." Obviously, the folks who own the rights to Dahl's works are within their legal rights to change the books, but that doesn't mean they should change the books.
That brings us to a second point. Several of the works of the aforementioned Mark Twain are potentially problematic to modern readers, especially those readers who don't grasp the satirical tone. The works of Rudyard Kipling are outright problematic. The works of Alexandre Dumas. The works of Louisa May Alcott. Even the works of J.K. Rowling (let's be honest, the goblins, albeit probably unwittingly, are Jewish stereotypes). All of these books have been on, and continue to be on, children's bookshelves. And there is something to be said for a teachable moment, wherein a parent or a teacher observes "People used to use words like this, and here's why we don't do that anymore."
And beyond that, the changes are so... arbitrary. If someone is upset by being called fat, for example, we can assure you that calling them "enormous" is not an improvement. Or how about the Oompa-Loompas? Yeah, they aren't gendered anymore, but they are still de facto slaves, taken from their homes in Africa, following colonialist logic ("Their lives are so much better now that they've been rescued from their savage, backwards existence!")
Most of the time, we have to roll our eyes at the culture warriors, and the things they manage to get their knickers in a twist about. But once in a great while, they may have the right of it. (Z)