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Save Roald Dahl Books From the Dreaded Sensitivity Readers

Let Augustus Gloop be fat.


The sensitivity readers have come for beloved children's author Roald Dahl. A recent report in The Telegraph notes that Puffin, publisher of classics such as Charlie and the Chocolate Factory and The Witches, will soon release new editions of the books, sans problematic phrasing and terminology.

"When publishing new print runs of books written years ago, it's not unusual to review the language used alongside updating other details including a book's cover and page layout," said Rick Behari, a spokesperson for the Roald Dahl Story Company. "Our guiding principle throughout has been to maintain the story lines, characters, and the irreverence and sharp-edged spirit of the original text."

Readers will have to decide for themselves whether deference to the spirit of the text is actually a guiding principle: New editions of Charlie and the Chocolate Factory, for instance, have removed references to Augustus Gloop as "fat." While the child-killing villains of The Witches were previously identified by their bald heads, the book now contains the disclaimer that "there are plenty of other reasons why women might wear wigs and there is certainly nothing wrong with that."

Indeed, it's impossible not to wonder whether these tweaks are subtly changing the message of the books. The Twits contains an excellent summary of Dahl's outlook: "You can have a wonky nose and a crooked mouth and a double-chin and stick out teeth, but if you have good thoughts they will shine out of your face like sunbeams." For some reason, the new version omits the "double-chin" part, which is coming perilously close to negating the entire point.

Puffin says the text should change to reflect modern sensitivities, although one wonders who exactly is so bothered by double-chins and an extra-fat Augustus Gloop.

Dahl books are hardly the first to get such a makeover. Dr. Seuss Enterprises canceled six of the famed children's author's books for dubious reasons.

These are private companies, of course: Publishers making business decisions. If they really think they'll sell more Dahls and Seusses this way, they're free to proceed. But maybe the publishers should think harder about whether a small handful of activists really speak for the book-reading masses. As Kat Rosenfield has observed, "Sensitivity readers are the new literary gatekeepers" and "reflect an obsession with policing language in service of a hypothetical person who is not only maximally sensitive but also not very smart."