Three years ago, we began what is one of our most treasured family traditions. Every night, I sit with my oldest children after their younger siblings have been put to bed and we read a chapter of a novel. We call the time “chapters,” and we began the tradition by working our way through a box set of all of Roald Dahl’s work. We were already familiar with his most well-known work like “Charlie and the Chocolate Factory” and “James and the Giant Peach,” thanks to their film adaptations, but the depth of Dahl’s writing talent really comes out with stories like “The Witches” and “The BFG.”

It’s ironic that we would begin with Dahl as a Jewish family, given his history of antisemitism, for which his family has apologized. But unfortunately, avoiding every person accused of antisemitism in literature (and art, sports, etc.) is an impossibility. When reading Dahl’s work, along with classics such as “Little House on the Prairie,” we use “problematic” language as a learning opportunity for discussion and debate.

While in Laura Ingalls Wilder’s book, the language used about Native Americans was overtly racist (which mirrored overall sentiment at the time), Dahl’s language was far more silly. It is this silly and exaggerated language that is under fire by those who feel that everything we read, watch and hear must be sanitized until it’s clean enough to eat off of. 

Earlier this week, it was announced that Dahl’s work is being edited in future editions to eliminate anything remotely “problematic.” The New York Times reported, “New editions of the works of Roald Dahl — the best-selling British novelist whose children’s classics include ‘Charlie and the Chocolate Factory,’ ‘Matilda’ and ‘James and the Giant Peach’ — have been rewritten in an effort to make them less offensive and more inclusive, according to a representative from the author’s estate.” 

Some of the changes were catalogued by a Twitter user, who compared editions of the Dahl books from 2001 and 2022. One passage from “The Witches” published in 2001, written by Dahl himself, read:

“‘Don’t be foolish,’ my grandmother said. ‘You can’t go round pulling the hair of every lady you meet, even if she is wearing gloves. Just you try it and see what happens.’”

The updated edition, written by a more “sensitive” writer, reads:

“‘Don’t be foolish,’ my grandmother said. ‘Besides, there are plenty of other reasons why women might wear wigs and there is certainly nothing wrong with it.” 

Which of these two writers are you more interested in reading? The real Roald Dahl or the imposter? Puffin, the publisher, may still be selling books under Dahl’s name, but they’re not what he wrote, and maybe not even what he would have written, had he lived to write in this sensitive age.

Additionally, the Times reported that characters in Dahl’s books “are no longer described as ‘fat’” and references to mothers and fathers are being replaced with “parents” or “family.”

The backlash was immediate, though not strong enough to push the publisher or those running Dahl’s estate to backtrack.

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The CEO of PENAmerica, Suzanne Nossel, tweeted, “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). Literature is meant to be surprising and provocative. That’s part of its potency.  By setting out to remove any reference that might cause offense you dilute the power of storytelling.”

The solution when it comes to Dahl is easy: Collect old books, build your library and invest in physical media like DVDs. But the larger issue, beyond the corruption of the original work, is the fact that we are guaranteed to never have another author like him if this is what it takes to pass muster in the publishing industry, which seems more concerned with being liked by everyone than by publishing provocative and entertaining literature. 

Throughout the industry, publishers have erected barriers on the road that talented writers must take between having an idea and seeing their work on sale in a bookstore. Agents tell authors they won’t bring book proposals to editors unless they are sufficiently culturally sensitive, and editors now employ “sensitivity readers” in order to make sure that every word is deemed acceptable by the gatekeepers.

From writers to agents to editors to publishing house executives to those reviewing books on GoodReads and for the mainstream media, the fear is palpable, and that fear is causing such a degree of self-censorship that that’s what’s driving what’s being allowed to be published, not passion for great storytelling.  

The review of Dahl’s language was undertaken to ensure that the books “can continue to be enjoyed by all today,” Puffin said. The problem is, this kind of sanitized writing isn’t enjoyable for anyone. This is how a culture withers and dies, when we incentivize for publishers any motivation besides the creation of good literature.

Bethany Mandel, a contributing writer for Deseret, is a home-schooling, stay-at-home mother of six. She is the co-author of the forthcoming book “Stolen Youth,” coming March 7 from Daily Wire Books, and an editor for the children’s book series “Heroes of Liberty.”