Penguin Random House has announced that it will publish unedited versions of Roald Dahl’s classic children’s novels after receiving criticism for changing and censoring passages to make them more suitable for modern readers.
The company plans to release 17 of Dahl’s books in their original form later this year as “The Roald Dahl Classic Collection,” giving readers the option to choose between the edited and unedited versions.
Critics have taken issue with the extensive changes made to some of Dahl’s most beloved works, including “Charlie and the Chocolate Factory,” where Augustus Gloop’s description as “enormously fat” was changed to “enormous,” and “Witches,” where an “old hag” became an “old crow” and a supernatural female character’s profession was altered. In “Fantastic Mr. Fox,” the word “black” was removed from a description of the tractors.
The Roald Dahl Story Company, which owns the rights to the books, worked with Penguin’s Puffin label to make the revisions, stating that they wanted to ensure the stories remained appropriate for all children. However, the extent of the changes led to criticism from free-speech groups, including PEN America and Salman Rushdie, who called the revisions “absurd censorship.”
Camilla, the queen consort, recently expressed her views on the matter at a literary reception, urging writers to remain true to their calling and not be impeded by those who wish to curb their freedom of expression.
Following the backlash, Penguin has decided to release unexpurgated versions of Dahl’s books, with Francesca Dow, Managing Director of Penguin Random House Children’s, acknowledging that there are real questions around how stories from a different era can be kept relevant for each new generation. By offering both Puffin and Penguin versions, readers can now choose how they experience Dahl’s magical stories.
Despite the books enduring popularity, Dahl was the subject of controversy due to his antisemitic comments made throughout his life. In 2020, Dahl’s family apologized for his behavior. The following year, the rights to the books were sold to Netflix, which plans to produce new films based on the stories.
Dahl’s books have sold over 300 million copies worldwide and continue to be read by children of all ages. Their popularity has led to numerous adaptations, including “Matilda the Musical” and two “Willy Wonka” films.