Furore erupts over decision to censor classic Roald Dahl books

Feb 26, 2023
Censoring the language of Roald Dahl's classic children's books has caused outrage. Source: Getty Images.

The recent decision to censor the language of Roald Dahl’s classic children’s books has triggered an uproar with many taking to social media to express their dissatisfaction with the move.

Much loved classics such as James and the Giant Peach, Matilda, and Charlie and the Chocolate Factory were not spared with language related to gender, weight, violence, and mental health such as “fat” and “ugly” altered and removed.

Even the hard-working Oompa Loompas fell victim to the revisions with the use of gender-neutral language meaning the unique characters are now referred to as “small people” instead of “small men”.

The publisher of Dahl’s books, Puffin, issued a statement regarding the United Kingdom editions of the classic tales.

“Over the course of the last year, Puffin has published updated editions of 16 of Roald Dahl’s books, in close partnership with The Roald Dahl Story Company as the custodian of his legacy. These included a relatively small number of textual edits, as well as routine changes to covers and inside layouts, to bring them up to date. Like many authors, Roald Dahl has been edited through the years, including in his own lifetime,” the statement read.

“At Puffin, we’ve been publishing and editing children’s books for over 80 years. It is not unusual for publishers to review and update language as the meaning and impact of words changes over time. Children as young as five or six read Roald Dahl books and, often, they are the first stories they will read independently. With that comes a significant responsibility, as it might be the first time they are navigating written content without a parent, teacher or carer.

“Within the context of the word count of the wider books, these textual changes are minimal. Roald Dahl’s stories remain unchanged and his mischievous spirit undiminished. They still celebrate and showcase his unique voice and his brilliantly rich storytelling. We are honoured to have been his publishers since 1980, and we’re proud to continue to introduce Roald Dahl stories to new generations of readers.”

Despite Puffin’s justification for their decision, the explanation did little to placate critics who were left outraged by the move.

Outspoken media personality Piers Morgan was among the first to express his displeasure at the revision, describing them as “ludicrous” in a column for Sky News.

“By rewriting vast swaths of a great writer’s work in this way, purely to appease the never-satisfied, always-whining woke brigade, Puffin has surrendered to a new form of fascism,” he wrote.

“I’d expect it in countries like North Korea, or China, where this kind of censorship was the hallmark of Mao’s Cultural Revolution.

“But for supposed homes of free speech to be kowtowing to the woke cancel-culture mob in such an appalling way is pathetic.

“Roald Dahl would be turning in his grave at what’s being done to his words, and by the tacit approval of the gutless goons running his estate who gave their approval to this literary arson.”

The dissatisfaction didn’t end with Morgan, those who opposed the decision took to social media in droves to express their opposition to what one person described as a “dangerous precedent”.


Dahl’s books aren’t the only ones to be amended, recently classic children’s books such as The Wizard of Oz, Dr Seuss and Little House on the Prairie were slapped with a trigger warning for featuring harmful content as part of a Cambridge University project.

As part of the project, a trigger warning was added at the beginning of text that featured words, phrases, and images considered racist or related to slavery or colonialism.

In a statement to The Daily Mail, Cambridge University said the aim of the project is to make content “less harmful in the context of a canonical literary heritage that is shaped by, and continues, a history of oppression”.

The move to slap children’s books with warnings was met with criticism by interest groups and authors.

The Campaign for Real Education’s, Chris McGovern said the “point of much of children’s literature is to introduce them to alternative worlds”.

“Fairy tales, for example, are saturated with scary characters and that is partly the point of them. Only woke-afflicted adults have such silly notions as trigger warnings,” McGovern said.

American children’s author, Judy Blume also opposed the move to censor children’s literature.

“All books, then, need trigger warnings because in any book there could be something to bother somebody,” she said.

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