• Sheila Cordner

    Sheila Cordner is a College of General Studies senior lecturer in humanities; she teaches children’s literature. She can be reached at scordner@bu.edu.  Profile

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There are 7 comments on POV: Revising Roald Dahl’s Classic Children’s Books Is a “Dangerous Portent of Future Censorship”

  1. I agree wholeheartedly with the writers. Changing the words of books does nothing to remove any prejudice and is merely a form of virtue signalling we now see far too often.

    It is unclear to me if the words themselves are harmful to begin with. It is the value society attaches to these words that make them dangerous. This means that over time, the word “enormous” will very likely have the same negative connotations we attach to “fat”. Perhaps publishers will use that moment as an opportunity to publish a new edition of the book and perpetuate a never ending cycle of replacing stigmatized words with new ones.

    My experience volunteering with various reading programs has shown (rather intuitively) that children are exposed to a variety of content beyond books. Even if we remove words in books, these words are clearly still present on social media and at the playground when children interact with their peers. The solution in not to remove the word but teach children the importance of respecting all body types. Books present an good opportunity to have a conversation about these topics. Sweeping the problem under the carpet nearly means we let social media algorithms teach children ideas better taught by parents/teachers.

    Even if it is important to change the words of books, perhaps the solution is to write new books instead of rewriting existing ones. There is obviously a lot less backlash to writing a new (appropriately worded and themed) book. In addition, we get to keep the original content of older books — books that people of all generations can relate to.

    Ultimately, children need to be exposed to a wide range of ideas when they are young — even if they are perceived to be harmful. The act of rewording books is no different from choosing to ban books as both stem from the assumption that children are unable to handle “complex” topics. If we believe childrens books should reflect the diversity of the world we live in, it should also reflect the diversity of the English language and the various, ever-changing connotations each word posesses.

    1. I agree wholeheartedly! Whatever might seem offensive or uncomfortable in the older versions is an opportunity for deeper discussion about the changes in our cultural sensitivities. We needn’t “white wash” the past. It does nothing to protect our children from the reality of cruel prejudices and biases that continue to exist in the present.

  2. I agree! I think especially with Roald Dahl’s complicated legacy regarding anti semitic comments and views, it’s important to recognize how works of literature from the past do not always perfectly translate well in present-day society, but this is something that must be acknowledged and not erased.

    Unfortunately, I was a big Roald Dahl fan as a child and was heartbroken as a Jewish person to find out about his views, and since then I haven’t been able to engage with his stories with the same zeal that I once had.

    I understand that books written in the present should definitely take care to ensure wording is inclusive and non-prejudiced, but changing the words used in the past does not feel like the answer. I think we should teach children about prejudice and harmful language and not exemplify it, but that doesn’t mean erasing it from the past.

    We need to recognize it was there, and that it happened, and is unfortunately still happening.

  3. I agree with the writer’s POV. For as long as I’ve remembered, there were always arguments made on whether to censor children’s books, television shows, movies, etc. in order to “protect their young minds.” Whether you like it or not, these forms of art are, and will always be a part of history. Changing an original work does not promote inclusivity or how problematic something is. It only covers up the truth, which we will eventually unveil.

    Besides, with the current rise of digital media platforms, especially with the younger generation, altering words in classic books does nothing. Children are already exposed to Tiktok and Instagram at such a young age and are already learning new topics. Publishers are focusing on the wrong battle and need to redirect their concerns elsewhere.

  4. As a child, I remember walking across my school library and picking out Roald Dahl’s books. It was a checklist that my and friends and I completed cause his stories were so magical that it transformed you into a different world. We also ended up doing a school play based on “The Twits”. It was disheartening to read that his books are being changed by his publisher. Change some of the words is futile as it still holds the same meaning, like changing ‘fat’ to ‘enormous’. These books mark a historic era in literature as they showcase the writing style of the late 1900s. Constantly editing older stories fails to recognise the evolution of writing through the years. There has been a conversation on editing these classics will be the solution to shelter children’s mind from the negativity. As rightfully pointed out in the other comments, social media is the main source of negativity that affects young adolescents. This is not the solution for their problem. Editing his stories just seems like an excuse!

  5. I agree with your opinion, as an international student, and a person whose native language isn’t English, I find it disturbing that I might purchase a book and then find out later that what I read weren’t the author’s original work, but a very censored version of it! Especially for people who aren’t necessarily looking at news about this sort of thing, how would they know? I also think this opens up a huge question about the publishing house’s responsibility towards the author and their writing, it isn’t for them to decide what to publish under the author’s name, at least that’s what I believe! Thanks for the thought provoking piece!

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