UK Prime Minister Rishi Sunak condemns 'gobblefunk' changes to Roald Dahl's books

British Prime Minister Rishi Sunak on Monday (local time) criticised the "airbrushing" of literature after a newspaper report showed books by children's author Roald Dahl had been edited to remove or alter references to gender, race and physical appearance.

The Daily Telegraph on Friday published an article showing hundreds of changes to some of Dahl's internationally popular books such as the 1988 story "Matilda", "The BFG" (1982) and "Charlie and the Chocolate Factory" (1964).

Compared to 2001 editions, the newspaper said the 2022 version changed the description of gluttonous boy Augustus Gloop from "enormously fat" to "enormous", changed the role models of book-loving child prodigy Matilda to include a female author and rewrote several descriptions to remove the word "black" - including when used to describe the colour of a giant's cloak.

"When it comes to our rich and varied literary heritage, the prime minister agrees with the BFG that you shouldn't gobblefunk around with words," said Sunak's spokesman, aping the word-twisting language used by Dahl's Big Friendly Giant.

"It's important that works of literature and works of fiction are preserved and not airbrushed."

Reuters could not verify all the changes across the two editions.

Dahl died aged 74 in 1990. In 2020 his family apologised for anti-Semitic remarks he had made, saying the comments were “incomprehensible to us”.

The company which manages the copyrights and trademarks of Dahl said it was not unusual to review language when reprinting books, and described any changes as "small and carefully considered".

"Our guiding principle throughout has been to maintain the storylines, characters, and the irreverence and sharp-edged spirit of the original text," said a spokesperson for the Roald Dahl Story Company.

Publisher Puffin, an imprint of Penguin Random House Children’s, did not respond to a Reuters request for comment.

Across several different books, the edits the newspaper reported addressed dated gender stereotypes, swapping a reference to women working as typists for "working as a top scientist", and changed language relating to mental health - in one instance substituting "furious" for "crazy".

Sections were removed which compared the imagined culinary merits of different nationalities from the perspective of man-eating giants, including describing Greeks as "greasy-tasting" and people from Japan as very small compared to Norwegians or Americans, the newspaper said.

Reacting to the report, author Salman Rushdie, who spent years in hiding after Iran urged Muslims to kill him because of his writing, highlighted Dahl's anti-Semitic remarks and questions around his attitude to race but criticised the changes to his published work.

"Roald Dahl was no angel but this is absurd censorship. Puffin Books and the Dahl estate should be ashamed," Rushdie said on Twitter.