The thought police come for Roald Dahl and Ian Fleming. Better buy the books you want now.
Perhaps nothing better illustrates the silliness of our times than the disturbing trend to “rework” classic books to make them palatable for a modern audience.
Applying current mores to the past – and forcing the past to conform to our “enlightened” ways – is patently unwise and smacks of something from George Orwell’s “1984” or tactics of the Soviet Union.
It’s an attempt to control thought.
British children’s author Roald Dahl and James Bond-creator Ian Fleming are the latest targets of the woke publishing world, and “sensitivity readers” have been busy.
What do these popular authors think about this makeover of their works? We can’t know as both men died decades ago.
Dahl wrote the beloved classics “Charlie and the Chocolate Factory,” “Matilda,” “James and the Giant Peach” and “Fantastic Mr. Fox,” among others. His works are known for being somewhat dark, and his eccentric characters are what have drawn generations of children to them.
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The troubling words that may offend today’s sensitive children – and that new editions of these books have erased – include “fat,” “ugly” and “black” (not used as a racial connotation). New lines have been added. Women are given more exciting jobs.
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"Female" has been changed to “woman.” Gender-neutral words are also preferred to offensive ones like “men,” “mother,” “father,” “girls” and “boys.”
A paragraph in “The Witches” talks about how the witches are bald under their wigs. Apparently, that needed an addition of this line: “There are plenty of other reasons why women might wear wigs and there is certainly nothing wrong with that.”
You get the idea.
Dahl purists and free expression advocates have pushed back hard against this meddling. And Penguin Random House, which publishes Dahl’s books, has agreed to keep “classic” (i.e. original) copies of his works, in addition to the freshly scrubbed ones. But who knows how long it will keep doing that.
“I think once you start going down that road of applying the modern sensibilities to any art of the past or even art today that might deviate somewhat from orthodox thought or common opinions and perspectives, you really limit the range of creative expression that's available in our society,” says Aaron Terr, director of public advocacy at the Foundation for Individual Rights and Expression,
“And I think a society that believes in creative and artistic expression certainly doesn't rewrite books to avoid any possibility of offending potential readers.”
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First Dr. Seuss, now James Bond
Similarly, some of Flemings’ wording is apparently too racist for today's readers. And I wouldn’t be surprised if the Bond Girls get new personas as well. (Pussy Galore, Kissy Suzuki and Honey Ryder aren’t likely to sit well with modern women).
Such rewrites undermine what literature is all about. Books are not only engaging stories – they are windows into the past, and past ways of thinking. They reflect the time in which they were written.
It was only two years ago that Dr. Seuss – one of the most popular children’s authors of all time – was in cancel culture’s crosshairs, and six books including "McElligot's Pool," "On Beyond Zebra!," "Scrambled Eggs Super!," and "The Cat's Quizzer" were deemed “racist and insensitive” and thus inappropriate for publishing.
Much like Dahl and Fleming, Dr. Seuss creator Theodor Geisel lived in a very different time. These authors shouldn’t be punished or censored for living when they did.
Author Salman Rushdie, who has faced attacks and years of threats for his books, called the rewrites of Dahl’s work “absurd censorship.”
Roald Dahl was no angel but this is absurd censorship. Puffin Books and the Dahl estate should be ashamed. https://t.co/sdjMfBr7WW
— Salman Rushdie (@SalmanRushdie) February 18, 2023
A 'dangerous new weapon'
Rushdie is joined by other high-profile critics.
“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," tweeted Suzanne Nossel, CEO of PEN America, which advocates for free expression in publishing.
“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."
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The left likes to blame “book banning” on Republicans and parents, many of whom have valid concerns about what young children in school should learning about race and gender.
Yet those debates aren’t about “banning” books in a literal sense – rather they are about limiting where children access them. The books still exist and are easily accessible in our online world.
Fundamentally changing words or context in existing books – or trying to prevent them from being published in the first place – is more insidious.
If Roald Dahl and Ian Fleming are fair game for the thought police now, what’s to stop the censors from “fixing” a book you love next?
Ingrid Jacques is a columnist at USA TODAY. Contact her at email@example.com or on Twitter: @Ingrid_Jacques
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This article originally appeared on USA TODAY: Roald Dahl, James Bond are censorship's latest victims. Who's next?