“The vandals have come for Roald Dahl,” says Brendan O’Neill in The Spectator. In an egregious case of “cultural purging”, the author’s works have been pored over by so-called sensitivity readers – “what we used to call censors” – to strip out any words or passages that “might hurt a kid’s feelings”. So the glutton Augustus Gloop in Charlie and the Chocolate Factory is no longer “fat”, he’s “enormous”, and the Oompa-Loompas have gone from being “small men” to “small people” (“gender-neutral Oompa-Loompas – just what the world was crying out for”). Matilda no longer reads Rudyard Kipling, “that imperial old brute”, but Jane Austen. Even the words black and white have been excised: characters now turn pale, not “white with fear”, and the BFG has been stripped of his “black cloak”.
It’s true that Dahl was a “very nasty man”, says Laura Hackett in The Sunday Times. He was racist, misogynistic and antisemitic; a heartless philanderer who boasted that seducing women was “ridiculously easy, like manipulating puppets”. But if we stop reading children’s literature by unpleasant authors, and remove all instances of violence or rudeness or sexism, “we’ll be left with very few books at all”. Certainly, you can “kiss goodbye to Enid Blyton”, given those sexist gender roles in The Famous Five. And what about Beatrix Potter? “Will the hedgehog washerwoman Mrs Tiggy-Winkle be rewritten as a ‘girlboss’ civil engineer?” Dahl knew full well that children can be nasty little buggers, but he made sure the “good, kind children always won the day”. He trusted his readers to tell good from bad, “and we should trust our children to do the same”. The publisher, Puffin, should be ashamed of its “botched surgery”.