Roald Dahl and Literary Revisionism: Censorship of Boks in the 21st Century?

The recent debate over the reissue of some of Roald Dahl's classics brings to the table the discussion of book censorship applied in the era of progressivism and the culture war.

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Photo: Roald Dahl

LatinAmerican Post | July Vanesa López Romero

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Leer en español: Roald Dahl y revisionismo literario: ¿censura de libros en pleno siglo XXI?

At the end of February, the British newspaper The Telegraph published an extensive report on the reissue of some of Roald Dahl's classics by Puffin Books, the children's imprint division of Penguin Random House. The report was in charge of collecting and pointing out hundreds of changes that were made in the work of the acclaimed British author, comparing the 2001 and 2022 editions.

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The changes were made to words and paragraphs that today could have negative meanings. Otherwise, the reissue is for the purpose of political correctness. Thus, descriptions of characters such as Augusto Glob, from "Charlie and the Chocolate Factory" are no longer made up of words like "fat", but "enormous". Or, for example, in an excerpt from the most recent edition of "The Witches" it is mentioned that women can work as scientists or company directors, whereas in previous editions it was said that they can be cashiers in a supermarket or that they can write love letters to men.

This fact generated a discussion around the limits of the reissues of old artistic products, such as these, and also opened a debate regarding censorship in the 21st century.

Do Ancient or Classic Artistic Works Fit Today?

The problem with the reissue of Roald Dahl's classics is that it seems to fall into political correctness for political correctness' sake. Although we are in a time when as a society we are more aware of the importance of creating and having access to artistic products that take care of language and that understand the violence generated by discrimination, it can become absurd to make changes to old works for the fact of complying with a political and cultural agenda.

It is evident that at the time Dahl's work was written, the use of this type of language was not problematic. But doesn't the value of a work also reside in the context in which it originates? There are millions of literary, cinematographic, plastic and musical works that were created at a time when political correctness was not even a concept.

This does not mean that they cannot be criticized in light of contemporary dynamics that problematize what is not acceptable today. What's more, the comparison is precisely one of the doors that has allowed us to put on the table the discussions that have led us to demand that current artists create from a more conscious place.

These modifications cannot be considered censorship in the strictest sense because, despite the fact that they are questionable, they are simple and keep the main theme and the general writing of the work practically intact.

Censorship in the 21st Century Does Exist

Despite the fact that censorship is something that is associated with the dictatorships of the 20th century, today this form of coercion against freedom of expression continues to exist. According to a recent report by the American Library Association (ALA), in 2022, 1,296 censorship requests were received for books with LGBT or black themes or main characters. This fact occurs in the midst of the culture war that the United States is going through, in which conservatives and progressives fight on different battlefields.

These complaints and requests are not only subject to the works as such, but also to educators, libraries, officials, and educational plans that include the books that are sought to be censored. The condemnation of the titles has been so great that even library workers have received threats from right-wing groups for the simple fact of giving these titles to children or parents. Bomb threats were even reported at a library in New York.

This fact demonstrates how the right wing of the country is focusing all its forces on demonstrating its racism and discrimination against people of sexual diversity. The censorship that is being exercised puts at risk not only freedom of expression, but also easy access to information.

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