Fandango’s Provocative Question #204


Welcome once again to Fandango’s Provocative Question. Each week I will pose what I think is a provocative question for your consideration.

By provocative, I don’t mean a question that will cause annoyance or anger. Nor do I mean a question intended to arouse sexual desire or interest.

What I do mean is a question that is likely to get you to think, to be creative, and to provoke a response. Hopefully a positive response.

I recently read an article that the publisher of the late author Roald Dahl’s children’s books is working with a group called Inclusive Minds, a consortium of “sensitivity readers,” whose objective is to make children’s books “more inclusive.”

Dahl’s books, including “Charlie and the Chocolate Factory,” “James and the Giant Peach,” and “Matilda,” are some of the best known and widely read children’s books. Yes, they have been characterized as dark, irreverent, and edgy. Yet they have been beloved by generations of children because of their occasionally prickly, mean-spirited nature, not in spite of it.

Dahl’s publisher, Puffin Books U.K., is now rewriting his language to remove hundreds of possibly “damaging” words. To-date, the publisher has changed parts of at least 10 of Dahl’s books. Gone are references to people being “fat,” “ugly,” “bald,” and “crazy.” Scary tractors are no longer “black.” Boys and girls are referred to as the more gender-neutral “children.”

Facing a firestorm of accusations of “censorship,” Puffin announced that, alongside the sanitized versions of 17 Dahl’s books, it will also publish unaltered “classic” versions.

And that brings me to today’s provocative question.

How do you feel about book publishers altering the language in classic books to “sanitize” them by eliminating or changing words, phrases, and sentiments that some readers might find upsetting? Is it wrong to rewrite the words of a published author, living or dead, without the author’s permission?

If you choose to participate, you may respond with a comment or write your own post in response to the question. Once you are done, tag your post with #FPQ and create a pingback to this post if you are on WordPress. Or you can simply include a link to your post in the comments. But remember to check to confirm that your pingback or your link shows up in the comments.

31 thoughts on “Fandango’s Provocative Question #204

  1. paeansunplugged March 8, 2023 / 3:43 am

    In my opinion it is stupidity. We live in an unequal world. Changing books and being politically correct is not going to change that.

    Liked by 3 people

  2. Paula Light March 8, 2023 / 5:34 am

    I dislike it immensely, and yes it is wrong to change an author’s words without permission! That said, Dahl was a jerk 😜

    Liked by 2 people

    • Fandango March 8, 2023 / 8:29 am

      Yes, he was, but if you change his words, are Mark Twain’s next? Shakespeare’s? It’s ridiculous.


      • eklastic March 8, 2023 / 8:36 am

        Mark Twain is not for little children. Adults and even older children/teenagers can be expected to put a text in a historical context. It can even get by with notes explaining that what was acceptable then is not now. In a children’s book notes are not really fitting.

        Liked by 1 person

        • Fandango March 8, 2023 / 8:59 am

          Yes, and that’s where parenting comes in. Putting the words/language in context for the younger reader.

          Liked by 1 person

  3. ronlanhamwriting March 8, 2023 / 5:41 am

    I am very much opposed. Leave these works intact. Let the readers decide for themselves, how to judge the original works. Learn from both the good and bad, yet reality in them.

    Liked by 2 people

  4. eklastic March 8, 2023 / 5:47 am

    I’ve read that Puffin has since backpaddled. However, I’m in two minds about this. Remember: the readers of Roald Dahl’s children’s books are children (I personally love his short stories for adults, I’m not that much of a fan of his children’s stories; personally I think the so-beloved Chocolate Factory is … well, not-my-favourite – Charly is sugary-sweet and all the other kids are horrible. However, the children suffer dire consequences yet the adults who MADE them are dismissed).

    I am currently reading “Jim Button and Lukas the locomotive driver”. A book, written in 1960 by Michael Ende (of “The Neverending Story” fame). It’s similary beloved by children in Germany as are Roald Dahl’s stories. In other words: it’s a classic. I loved the story. I loved reading it to our boys because there are not that many children’s books with a non-white main character (Jim Buttons is African). And then you happen to come across the N-word in the description of Jim (probably innocent in 1960, the German equivalent was not as vilified then, although it is also totally non-acceptable today). Reading it to my grandson, I can change it to “African”. If our grandson reads it by himself … I probably take a black sharpy to it. Reading it, though, I realise that there many more problems with the story: Africa is described as one country, equal to China and the little island of Lummerland. Mandala, another country in the book, reeks with Chinese/East Asian clichés, obvious one and not so obvious ones.
    So – although I like the story (it’s phantasy with dragons and pirates etc.) I can’t say I’m too sad if no other child will read it.

    And here is another example: Astrid Lindgren has changed her own books about Pippi Longstocking. In the version I had as a child, her father is described as a “negro king”, in later versions she changed it to “south sea king” (however, the characterisation of the people on the island are at least suspect). The big difference is, of course, Astrid Lindgren did it herself.

    For me it boils down to: Do I change a few words (if that is the only problem) and gift future children with wonderful, beloved stories or do I leave the text untouched and future children will not read the stories. Because I don’t want to my grandchildren to think that the N-word is acceptable. I don’t want them to think it’s okay to bully fat children (and yes, Charly and the Choc. Factory is bullying).

    Liked by 2 people

    • Fandango March 8, 2023 / 8:46 am

      I understand your point, but as a said to another, how far do you take it. Should we change Mark Twain’s language, alter Shakespeare’s wording? These books were were written at different times, when being politically correct was not a thing. I think it’s okay for children to read the original versions of such stories but it’s up to the parents to let them know that some of the language and word usage in these books reflect a different time and society and are not generally acceptable today.

      Liked by 1 person

    • Marleen March 8, 2023 / 11:43 am

      I didn’t know about Dahl’s stories for non-children. In the Buttons book you referenced, do you mean THE “n word” (n****r) or do you, rather mean “negro” (which some highly-academic intellectually-minded Black people sometimes use today)? The latter was innocent in 1960 (the former wasn’t); is actually occasionally acceptable now, but not casually… I wouldn’t want to read it to little ones.

      Liked by 2 people

      • eklastic March 8, 2023 / 12:55 pm

        Well, it’s a bit complicated. Because the actual N-word and the word “negro” is the same in German. To complicate matters, there is a village called “N***r” (German style) and it is also a family name, not common but it exists. This particular word did not have quite the bad connotations it has now but if Michael Ende had been a little bit more in tune with current ideas he might have avoided it. But at the time he was so busy fighting the trend of super realistic children’s books and fighting it with non-realistic, phantastic, colourful stories that he didn’t realise how many old-fashioned clichés and concepts he put in his books. His later books, for a bit older children, are much more in tune with the “Zeitgeist” (or maybe he even opened up the times to his ideas). I wrote my final theses of my studies in German Literature at university on the Neverending Story (drawing a lot of parallels to the era of Romanticism 150 years earlier) but if I had to write it today I’d include his earlier works and be much critical.
        And you’re quite right – it’s not a word I would like little ones to hear or read.

        Liked by 2 people

        • Marleen March 8, 2023 / 1:25 pm

          Oh, how interesting! What word is the German for black in Black Forest?

          Liked by 2 people

          • eklastic March 8, 2023 / 2:40 pm

            Schwarz as in Schwarzwald (and the cake is called Schwarzwälderkirschtorte 😁 ). The word I am talking about is an actual n-word related to the Spanish for black (negra). There is a German confectionary, a soft marshmallow center covered with a very thin chocolate crust. It used to be called N…kiss and that name is just not acceptable anymore. It’s now called a Foamy Kiss.

            Liked by 1 person

      • Marleen March 8, 2023 / 1:13 pm

        Freakishly (in my opinion), I encountered a young woman about the age of my oldest son (born decades after 1960* and married to a friend at the time of this other young woman) who said THE n word was normal [like okay] when SHE was little. I was completely non-believing (although, hell, I suppose she was speaking her truth). I should add that I wasn’t in this world in 1960, but my parents never used THE word, and it wasn’t like they had remolded themselves to get to that point. Even my mom’s parents, despite the fact my mom’s dad was slightly bigoted but never outright hateful while he was further reforming himself (came from Illinois), didn’t use that word. We were three generations in St. Louis. This girl grew up in an area that has since become a suburb [still in a different county] — so it was rural before — southwest (almost to Kansas) of Grandview, Missouri and which surrounds a point of a major highway people travel to an Ozark vacation.

        Liked by 2 people

  5. rugby843 March 8, 2023 / 10:01 am

    It is outrageous!  I can’t imagine why a legitimate publishing company had the right to do this.😡

    Sent from Yahoo Mail for iPad

    Liked by 1 person

  6. Marleen March 8, 2023 / 10:43 am

    I suppose the publisher doesn’t want book sales to decrease when preschools and schools for young children want to reduce bullying. On a purist kind of level, while I was never a fan of this author or movies based on him, any book he wrote should be the words he wrote in his own name. I’m less bothered since they decided to offer both versions… if they state clearly on front pages, in every printing of the altered ones, that they’ve changed his work and …exactly how; haven’t heard anything about that happening.

    Liked by 1 person

  7. pensitivity101 March 8, 2023 / 11:56 am

    I think it’s ridiculous, even sacrilegious to an extent to amend the classics, and some of Roald Dahl’s books are just that. If people don’t like something and are offended, don’t read it! It is getting to the stage where you cannot say or write anything without someone somewhere getting offended. It is a STORY ffs, and kids when I was growing up liked a little bit of evil witches and warlocks. Get a life.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Marleen March 9, 2023 / 10:34 am

      I had an uncanny experience, last night. It wasn’t anything pertaining to witches and warlocks, though. We contacted Uber for a pick up from the venue where we saw Riverside (progressive rock band from Poland). I got in and heard music playing that sounded fine to me, and then I heard the n word repeatedly in it. Now, there is where I can be a big girl and understand culture. I can think past one or two steps or years or decades and accept that there are repercussions and developments in life. It’s totally fair that I don’t get to sing along. I contemplated the message. It was a little bit humorous but real (given particular cases), as there were notions about women (not anything about hos or rape). I didn’t want to sing along, by the way. It had a good beat, and I swayed to it slightly at times.

      Liked by 2 people

      • pensitivity101 March 9, 2023 / 11:22 am

        These days, bad language seems to be acceptable in songs whereas before, such a song would be banned from the radio. I don’t like to hear it, so switch off.

        Liked by 1 person

      • Marleen March 10, 2023 / 11:54 am

        Riverside “the place where I belong” (Official Track Visualizer)

        Liked by 1 person

  8. XingfuMama March 8, 2023 / 1:00 pm

    Language changes over time and sometimes the ideas in stories lose out when the language that was used to tell them changes to the point where people reading them no longer “get it”. Language and usage change pretty fast. An example of this is what we now call the “n word”. When I was a child many people, including my grandparents, used that word for what is now “Black”. Nowadays it seems to be simply a slur. My son would not be familiar with its usage as a race descriptor. Another word that has had a meaning change in my lifetime is “gay”, which is pretty much never used as a synonym for happy and joyous anymore. The word woke is quickly losing its original meaning. Sometimes you have to update language so that we can continue to access meaning. There are many modern renditions of Shakespeare’s plays and countless modern translations of the Bible.

    Liked by 2 people

  9. The Inkwell March 8, 2023 / 2:31 pm

    Here is my contribution.

    As a lover of literature, I have mixed feelings about publishers altering the language in classic books to “sanitize” them. On one hand, I understand the desire to make these works more accessible and inclusive to readers who may find certain words, phrases, or sentiments upsetting. However, on the other hand, I believe that it’s important to preserve the original language and context of these works in order to fully appreciate and understand them.

    It’s a difficult question to answer whether it’s wrong to rewrite the words of a published author, living or dead, without their permission. On one hand, as the author of the work, they have a right to maintain control over the language and content of their creation. On the other hand, as society evolves and our understanding of certain issues changes, it may be necessary to update the language in order to reflect these changes and ensure that the work remains relevant.

    Ultimately, I believe that any alterations to a classic work of literature should be done with great care and consideration. It’s important to weigh the benefits of making the work more accessible to a wider audience against the potential loss of the original language and context. If changes are made, they should be done in consultation with experts and with the utmost respect for the author’s intent and legacy.

    Liked by 3 people

    • Fandango March 8, 2023 / 3:58 pm

      Very well said. It is a knotty issue and as language and word usage changes and evolves, it’s going to become even knottier.


  10. Marilyn Armstrong March 8, 2023 / 4:39 pm

    Call it by any name you choose, it’s still censorship. How do you become and expert censor? Do they teach it in college? Do you need a PhD? A lot of books have been offensive to a lot of people for many years, but until this became a cause celebre, you were free to NOT read the book. There are plenty of books packed with antiSemitism, race-hatred and worse. That doesn’t mean we should be censoring or worse, banning them.

    Liked by 2 people

  11. The Autistic Composter March 9, 2023 / 1:38 am

    As Marilyn says it is censorship at its worst, it is simply erasing what was, and sadly it is the way of today’s world. I’ll be glad when my tour of duty is over.

    Liked by 1 person

  12. leigha66 March 14, 2023 / 4:01 pm

    Two words – censorship and profit. The publishing company wants to make more money so they alter a book to satisfy sensitive readers and sell more. It is NOT as the author intended and there for wrong, in my book anyway.

    Liked by 1 person

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