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Changes to new editions of Roald Dahl books have readers up in arms

Books by Roald Dahl are displayed in New York in 2011. New editions are being altered to remove words deemed offensive.
Andrew Burton
Books by Roald Dahl are displayed in New York in 2011. New editions are being altered to remove words deemed offensive.

New editions of legendary works by British author Roald Dahl are being edited to remove words that could be deemed offensive to some readers, according to the late writer's company.

Dahl wrote such books as Charlie and the Chocolate Factory, Matilda, James and the Giant Peach and Fantastic Mr. Fox.

British newspaper The Telegraph first reported that the publisher of Dahl's books, Puffin, made hundreds of changes to original texts of the author's well-known children's books.

The character Augustus Gloop in Charlie and the Chocolate Factory is no longer called "fat." Instead he is described as "enormous," The Telegraph reports.

Instead of being called "small men," Oompa-Loompas are now "small people," the article says.

Further, the changes to these books include adding language not originally written by Dahl. In his 1983 book The Witches, he writes that witches are bald beneath their wigs. According to The Telegraph, an added line in new editions says, "There are plenty of other reasons why women might wear wigs and there is certainly nothing wrong with that."

Puffin and The Roald Dahl Story Company, which manages the copyrights of Dahl's books and works with publishers, didn't respond to NPR's requests for comment.

But The Roald Dahl Story Companytold The Associated Press that it worked with Puffin to review the books out of a desire to ensure "Dahl's wonderful stories and characters continue to be enjoyed by all children today." The company said it worked with Inclusive Minds, an organization that works for inclusivity in children's books. Changes were "small and carefully considered," the company told the AP.

The changes have drawn criticism from advocacy groups, readers and writers.

Suzanne Nossel, CEO of the free expression advocacy group PEN America, called the changes alarming.

"Amidst fierce battles against book bans and strictures on what can be taught and read, selective editing to make works of literature conform to particular sensibilities could represent a dangerous new weapon," Nossel tweeted. "Those who might cheer specific edits to Dahl's work should consider how the power to rewrite books might be used in the hands of those who do not share their values and sensibilities."

Renowned author Salman Rushdie stepped in as well, calling the changes censorship.

Rushdie is, of course, known for being a target for his own work. He spent years in hiding after Iran's Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini called for his death after publishing his novel The Satanic Verses, which some Muslims consider blasphemous. Rushdie was stabbed in August and lost vision in one eye and has nerve damage.

"Roald Dahl was no angel but this is absurd censorship. Puffin Books and the Dahl estate should be ashamed," Rushdie tweeted.

Dahl died in 1990 at the age of 74 after writing children's books and stories that have been translated into 68 languages. Some of his books became classic movies as well. His book Matilda was just recently made into a musical film for Netflix and premiered last year.

Though his work is revered, Dahl is also a controversial figure for antisemitic comments he made throughout his life. The Roald Dahl Story Company issued an apology in 2020.

Copyright 2023 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

Jaclyn Diaz is a reporter on Newshub.