Roald Dahl: New editions of classic children's books including Charlie and the Chocolate Factory edited for sensitivity

Children's books by the renowned author Roald Dahl have been partly rewritten to remove language that's considered offensive, as well as to make the much-loved stories more inclusive for new generations of readers. 

Puffin Books, the British children's division of the publisher Penguin Random House, had hired sensitivity readers to make "hundreds of changes to the original text" of the UK editions in an effort to ensure the books can "continue to be enjoyed by all today". As per the Daily Telegraph, the fictional works will undergo the modifications in their next printings. 

According to the report, adjectives such as "fat" and "ugly" have been removed from classic titles including Matilda, The BFG and James and the Giant Peach. Meanwhile in Dahl's Charlie and the Chocolate Factory, Willy Wonka's factory workers, the Oompa Loompas, have also become gender-neutral in a bid to promote inclusivity. 

Augustus Gloop, a German boy with an insatiable appetite for sweets from the 1964 novel Charlie and the Chocolate Factory, is now referred to as "enormous" rather than fat, while the Oompa Loompas - now referred to as "small people" instead of "small men" - are described as "small" rather than "tiny", "titchy" or "no higher than my knee", as per Vanity Fair.

Additionally, Mrs Twit of The Twits is no longer described as "fearfully ugly", and Mr Twit is now merely "beastly" - not "ugly and beastly". 

The amendments have also seen additions as well as omissions. As per the report, upcoming versions of The Witches - in which the witches wear wigs to hide their baldness - will include the line: "There are plenty of other reasons why women might wear wigs and there is certainly nothing wrong with that."

Other changes include referring to "boys and girls" as "children", calling the Cloud-Men in James and the Giant Peach "Cloud-People", and Matilda now reading the work of Jane Austen instead of Rudyard Kipling. Additionally, Mr Fox of Fantastic Mr Fox will have three daughters instead of sons. 

It's also reported that descriptors such as "crazy" and "mad" have been omitted, as well as the use of black or white as adjectives - characters no longer turn "white with fear", Miss Spider's head is no longer "black", and the Earthworm has "lovely smooth skin" instead of "lovely pink skin". 

The sensitivity editors also added a notice on the copyright page, which reads: "The wonderful words of Roald Dahl can transport you to different worlds and introduce you to the most marvellous characters. This book was written many years ago, and so we regularly review the language to ensure that it can continue to be enjoyed by all today."

In 2021, a deal was penned by Netflix to purchase the Roald Dahl Story Company, the owner of Dahl's works, for a reported US$686 million, with a US$1 billion production plan in mind. Puffin's changes to future publications of the books began in 2020, prior to the deal, and when the Roald Dahl Story Company was still helmed by Dahl's heirs. The Netflix deal was initiated in 2018. 

The Roald Dahl Story Company has since defended the decision to amend Dahl's classic titles, noting it's "not unusual to review the language" used in literature of yesteryear and that the omissions and additions were "small and carefully considered".

"We want to ensure Roald Dahl's wonderful stories and characters continue to be enjoyed by all children today," a spokesperson for the Netflix-owned Roald Dahl Story Company told Fox News.

"When publishing new print runs of books written years ago, it's not unusual to review the language used alongside updating other details including a book's cover and page layout. Our guiding principle throughout has been to maintain the storylines, characters, and the irreverence and sharp-edged spirit of the original text. Any changes made have been small and carefully considered.

"As part of our process to review the language used we worked in partnership with Inclusive Minds, a collective for people who are passionate about inclusion and accessibility in children's literature.

"The current review began in 2020, before Dahl was acquired by Netflix. It was led by Puffin and the Roald Dahl Story Company together."

Roald Dahl
The bestselling children's writer Roald Dahl (1916-1990) whose stories include Charlie and the Chocolate Factory and James and the Giant Peach, 1971. Photo credit: Getty Images

Reactions to the news have been wide-ranging: while some have praised and applauded the move, many others have condemned the decision. British-American novelist Sir Salman Rushdie has castigated the amendments as "absurd censorship", tweeting: "Roald Dahl was no angel but this is absurd censorship. Puffin Books and the Dahl estate should be ashamed."

Author Richard Blandford wrote: "Keep Roald Dahl books as they are but have a little note at the beginning explaining that he was a c***."

Comedian and journalist Andrew Doyle added: "Roald Dahl's books have been censored in new editions by Puffin. These aren't Dahl's books. Buy the old versions."

Dahl, who died aged 74 in 1990, has faced scrutiny in recent years for remarks that have been considered anti-Semitic. During an interview in 1983, the author said: "There is a trait in the Jewish character that does provoke animosity, maybe it's a kind of lack of generosity towards non-Jews. I mean, there's always a reason why anti-anything crops up anywhere." He added, "Even a stinker like Hitler didn't just pick on them for no reason." 

In December 2020, Dahl's family released a statement three decades after his death to apologise for the "hurt" he may have caused.

"The Dahl family and the Roald Dahl Story Company deeply apologise for the lasting and understandable hurt caused by some of Roald Dahl's statements," the family's brief statement read.

"Those prejudiced remarks are incomprehensible to us and stand in marked contrast to the man we knew and to the values at the heart of Roald Dahl's stories, which have positively impacted young people for generations."

It concluded: "We hope that, just as he did at his best, at his absolute worst, Roald Dahl can help remind us of the lasting impact of words."