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“Roald Dahl can never be made nice”

Miss Trunchbull in Netflix’s adaptation of Matilda

I winced along with everyone else at the “tin-eared re-rendering” of Roald Dahl’s James and the Giant Peach, says Gaby Hinsliff in The Guardian. Aunt Sponge is no longer “tremendously flabby”, for example, just a “nasty old brute”. But am I shocked that the Dahl empire – backed by Netflix, who just forked out £500m for the film rights to the author’s novels – have made these inclusivity edits? Of course not. The revisions aren’t Orwellian – they’re a “commercially savvy” business move by a vast literary empire. To sell, Dahl’s books need to appeal to politically conscious millennial parents and schools. Publisher Puffin faced the same dilemma as ageing actresses: “get some ‘work’ done and remain contenders, or graciously fade away”. The real outrage is that the sensitivity readers turned out to be rubbish writers. The lesson here is literary rather than political: “come for a classic, and you’d really better not miss”.

The whole exercise is pointless, says Helen Lewis in The Atlantic. “Roald Dahl can never be made nice.” In The Witches, where the evil women hide their tell-tale bald heads under wigs, the new edition is at pains to remind us “there are plenty of other reasons women might wear wigs and there is certainly nothing wrong with that”. Yet the book still concludes with the grandson stuck as a mouse, with a shortened life span to match. “Hardly a happy ending.” Then there’s the Oompa-Loompas, who, thanks to editors, have no longer been smuggled to the chocolate factory in “large packing cases with holes in them” – now, they’re volunteers who “love it here”. “Thank you for the clarification, Mr Wonka, and now perhaps your PR firm could explain why the Oompa-Loompas aren’t allowed to leave.” Dahl’s novels are, to their core, “nasty: casually cruel, even sadistic in places”. No amount of tinkering with buzzwords can change that.

📚🤑 Puffin UK announced on Friday that it would release the uncensored versions of Dahl’s titles in a “classic” collection. In other words, says Twitter user @sheddingham, the publisher now has “two sets of books to flog” after a week of wall-to-wall publicity. “Hurrah for the Puffin shareholders!”