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Proposed changes to Roald Dahl books spark backlash

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(LONDON, U.K) — Some of Roald Dahl’s beloved children’s books will be getting updates to be more inclusive, progressive and more acceptable to today’s readers, according to The Roald Dahl Story Company, which owns the rights to the books.

The celebrated children’s book author was the mastermind behind bestsellers such as “Charlie and the Chocolate Factory,” “James and the Giant Peach,” “Matilda” and “The BFG.”

Phrases like “Mothers and fathers” in Dahl’s “Matilda,” first published in 1988, could be replaced with “parents” while some descriptions of “fat” characters could be edited or removed entirely. Description of women’s jobs are also subject to change.

“It’s not unusual to review the language used alongside updating other details,” a spokesman for The Roald Dahl Story Company, which was purchased by Netflix in 2020, told ABC News, adding, “Our guiding principle throughout has been to maintain the storylines, characters, and the irreverence and sharp-edged spirit of the original text.”

The British newspaper The Telegraph was first to report the changes.

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The new development has sparked backlash from the literary community, with author Salman Rushdie writing on Twitter, “Roald Dahl was no angel but this is absurd censorship. Puffin Books and the Dahl estate should be ashamed.”

PEN America CEO Suzanne Nossel weighed in on the growing controversy, writing in part in a Twitter thread, “The problem with taking license to re-edit classic works is that there is no limiting principle. You start out wanting to replace a word here and a word there, and end up inserting entirely new ideas (as has been done to Dahl’s work).”

Author Matthew Dennison, who wrote the biography “Roald Dahl: Teller of the Unexpected,” added, “If you soften or make bland some of those choices of language then perhaps you undermine the badness of the so-called bad characters, which pulls the rug from under the plot. So I think it is perfectly possible that changes to Dahl’s wording actually somehow shrink the impact of the stories, make the stories less powerful.”

The language within Dahl’s works were reviewed in partnership with publisher Puffin Books, an imprint of Penguin Random House, and Inclusive Minds, a collective with a mission to make children’s literature more inclusive, diverse and accessible. Inclusive Minds said the changes were “small and carefully considered,” according to The Associated Press.

Although his works have been revered and loved by young readers, fans have had to reckon with Dahl, who died in 1990, and his works over the years. The author made antisemitic remarks during his lifetime and his family and estate have apologized for them in the past.

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