UK PM Sunak condemns ‘gobblefunk’ changes to Roald Dahl’s books

By William James; Edited by News Gate Team

[1/2] A cake decorated in the style of the Roald Dahl children’s book “Matilda” is displayed at the Cake and Bake show in London, Britain October 3, 2015. REUTERS/Neil Hall/File Photo
[2/2] British Prime Minister Rishi Sunak looks on outside Number 10 Downing Street, in London, Britain, January 25, 2023. REUTERS/Toby Melville/File Photo

LONDON, Feb 20 (Reuters) – British Prime Minister Rishi Sunak on Monday 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 crucial that literary and creative works are maintained and not whitewashed.”

Reuters was unable to confirm every change between the two publications.

Dahl passed away in 1990 at age 74. His family issued an apology for the anti-Semitic remarks he had made in 2020, claiming they were “incomprehensible to us.”

It is common practice to evaluate terminology when publishing books, according to the organization in charge of managing Roald Dahl’s copyrights and trademarks, and any alterations are described as “minor and well studied.”

According to a representative for the Roald Dahl Story Company, “our guiding approach throughout has been to keep the narratives, characters, and the irreverence and sharp-edged attitude of the original material.”

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.

By William James; Edited by News Gate Team

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