Don’t let softer generations vandalize your books.
That’s the call of Wyoming author C.J. Box and others who are calling out the publisher and estate of Roald Dahl this week for scrubbing controversial terms from the beloved children’s author’s works.
Box remembers reading Dahl’s “James and the Giant Peach” to his daughters when they were young. There’s no doubt the author was acerbic, Box told Cowboy State Daily, but that was precisely why Dahl connected so well with children.
“Some of the exaggeration and grotesqueness were things that were compelling to that age of reader,” said Box. “He never wrote down to children.”
Dahl’s world of fiction contains cannibalistic giants, torturous school principals, illiterate and abusive parents, and cruel and greedy children.
But it also features brilliant, humble, unassuming heroes who stumble through the hideousness toward purpose, and family.
Fat, Ugly, Crazy And Female
Hundreds of changes have been made to Dahl’s classics, including “Matilda,” “Charlie and the “Chocolate Factory” and “James and the Giant Peach.”
Puffin, Dahl’s publisher, in conjunction with his estate and with suggestions from sensitivity coalition Inclusive Minds, has scrubbed and replaced words like “fat,” “ugly,” “crazy” and “female” from his stories.
Where possible, the outlet reported, gender neutral terms like “parents” have been substituted for gendered terms like “mother” and “father.”
That’s a fate portended by Aldous Huxley in his dystopian novel “Brave New World,” in which society considered gendered parental nouns to be dirty words.
Box on Monday retweeted author Walter Kirn, who deemed the rewrite “vandalism.”
“From this day out, every author should add a restriction in their publishing contracts that specifies that the company is forbidden to vandalize text in current and future works,” wrote Box. “And if the publisher doesn’t agree, find a new one that will.”
In his interview, Box reflected on his own canon, which contains controversial themes and discussions. Some would offend people on the political right, some would offend people on the political Left, he said.
“(If) the future publisher changes the meaning of the argument in the book, or the dialogue or descriptions based on whatever the current fad is, I would hate that,” he said. “I’d rather they didn’t republish it than do that.”
Box said he hopes enough authors will lock down their publishing contracts to prevent future posthumous censorship. He also hopes enough writers and thinkers rail against the changes to Dahl’s work to discourage publishers from rewriting more established works.
From what he’s seen in the news, Puffin’s changes to Dahl’s work look silly to Box.
“Dumb changes by not-very-bright people,” is how he describes them.
Where a 2001 edition of “The Witches” contained the sentence: “Even if she is working as a cashier in a supermarket or typing letters for a businessman,” the 2022 edition reads: “Even if she is working as a top scientist or running a business.”
A 2001 edition of “Matilda” describes a woman who sailed with Joseph Conrad and went to India with Rudyard Kipling.
The 2022 version has the same woman instead visiting Jane Austen and traveling to California with John Steinbeck.
Even if the publisher feels justified in making these changes, said Box, they’re unjustifiable because “that wasn’t the intent in the book.”
Box isn’t alone. Numerous authors criticized Puffin this week for its rewrite, including award-winning author Salman Rushdie.
“Roald Dahl was no angel, but this is absurd censorship,” Rushdie wrote on Twitter.
Rushdie may have been referencing Dahl’s antisemitic tendencies, which Dahl related in an interview just before his 1990 death at age 74.
Rushdie lived in hiding for a decade after an Iranian authority deemed his book “The Satanic Verses” blasphemy and called for his death. Rushdie was stabbed last summer at a literary event in western New York.
C.J. Box is the No. 1 New York Times bestselling author of 30 novels, including the Joe Pickett Series, according to his website. He is a Wyoming native and has worked as a ranch hand, surveyor, fishing guide and a small-town newspaper reporter and editor.
He and his wife Laurie have three daughters and two grandchildren. The pair live on their ranch in Wyoming.