Roald Dahl Books Rewritten To Remove Offensive Language, Here’s What’s Being Censored

Puffin Books is making some strange changes to Roald Dahl's texts to render them less offensive.

By Jessica Scott | Published

roald dahl
Willy Wonka & The Chocolate Factory (1971) was based on Roald Dahl’s 1964 children’s novel Charlie & the Chocolate Factory

Are we actually talking about censoring books in 2023? Yes, we are. According to the Chicago Tribune, several books by Roald Dahl are being edited by Britain’s Puffin Books “make them more acceptable to modern readers.” 

Puffin Books, a division of publishing giant Penguin Random House, has reportedly made numerous changes to Roald Dahl’s classic children’s books such as Charlie and the Chocolate Factory, Matilda, and more so that there is no possible way that they could even slightly offend anyone.

One example of this “editing” is that the nemesis of the titular Charlie from Charlie and the Chocolate Factory, Augustus Gloop, is no longer written as being “enormously fat.” Instead, he is just simply “enormous.”

Next, in the original version of Roald Dahl’s The Witches, the narrator says that a witch who is pretending to be a normal, everyday woman could perhaps be working as a “cashier in a supermarket or typing letters for a businessman.” In the new version, that same woman is described as possibly being a “top scientist or running a business,” even though this is completely unnecessary.

This is the crux of the issue: this type of censorship changes the story from the author’s original idea. In Roald Dahl’s version, the whole point of the woman being something like a cashier or a secretary wasn’t just based on a stereotype or meant to imply that women could only do certain things for work. The point was that a woman who was a witch could be literally anyone.

Anyone you see could be a witch (yes, even a scientist!), but especially someone you didn’t expect – in other words, someone doing work that is relatively inconspicuous, like working at the grocery store. 

anne hathaway
HBO Max’s The Witches (2020) starring Anne Hathaway was based on the 1983 Roald Dahl novel of the same name.

But, unfortunately, that is just the tip of the iceberg. Hundreds of changes were made to Roald Dahl’s books, and some of them are just absurd. For instance, the word “black” was removed, not from the description of a person, but from the description of a tractor in The Fabulous Mr. Fox.

Yes, I said a tractor. We can no longer write what the color of a tractor is.

Authors and readers all over the world are speaking up about these ridiculous rewrites, including award-winning author Salman Rushdie. “Roald Dahl was no angel but this is absurd censorship,’’ he posted on Twitter, concluding his statement with: “Puffin Books and the Dahl estate should be ashamed.’’

This censoring of Roald Dahl’s work is just the latest in a number of “rewrites” of classic texts that are meant to save children from reading about stereotypes that existed in the past. But what the editors don’t realize is that trying to save the children is actually going to end up hurting them in the end. Instead of giving children a chance to ask questions or to learn right and wrong by looking at past writing, we are instead just forcing our current society’s ideals on them without letting them see what came before and why it changed.

According to Suzanne Nossel, chief executive of PEN America, “If we start down the path of trying to correct for perceived slights instead of allowing readers to receive and react to books [like Roald Dahl’s] as written, we risk distorting the work of great authors and clouding the essential lens that literature offers on society.” 

In other words, if we strip away the author’s voice and cultural influence from past works, we are also stripping away the past itself. And if we can’t learn from the past, how can we expect to have a better future?