Augustus Gloop is fat. The Witches are terrifying old hags and the Oompa Loompas are small men.
Born of the imagination of Roald Dahl, they are – together with Dahl’s countless other masterfully crafted heroes and villains – the legendary characters that have fascinated, entertained and terrified generations of children, myself included.
However, Dahl’s publisher, Puffin, has deemed many of the author’s words unfit for modern children and edited the latest editions of his works to remove ‘sensitive’ references.
So, as of today, Augustus Gloop is no longer fat, he is ‘enormous.’ The Oompa Loompas, meanwhile, are gender neutral and the Twits are less ugly than they once were.
And in one step, Puffin has removed an element of the Dahl magic for his young readers, denying them the chance to read his timeless stories as he intended. The result is sanitised, modernised Dahl for a time that is more concerned with not offending people, than it is with maintaining literary integrity.
I personally hate the term ‘woke,’ I think it is in itself a meaningless word that is used to describe the principle of protecting society from itself, by always playing it safe, never taking risks and erring on the side of sensitivity and caution.
But no one should have the right to change the words of a beloved author, out of fear of causing offence.
Yes, Dahl was no saint. Criticised for anti-Semitic views, much of what he believed certainly wouldn’t fit in with modern society. But neither, I expect, would the views of Shakespeare, Wordsworth, Jane Austen, Agatha Christie or any author from any era of history. Because that’s the point, they were of their time, not today.
Let’s not forget, Romeo is 16 and Juliet is 13. Shakespeare wrote a love story involving underage children and suicide. What would Puffin make of that today?
Changing Dahl’s words for modern day children is fundamentally wrong and one step closer to an Orwellian future. More importantly though, it’s taking away the magic for youngsters reading Dahl for the first time.
I remember as a child, being repulsed by The Twits and terrified of the Witches. I pictured Augustus Gloop as a hugely fat blob of a child, and the Oompa Loompas as little men, running around Willy Wonka’s factory.
I feel so sad to think that tomorrow’s children will picture them differently and that the words they read won’t trigger the same emotions as I felt. So, I’ll be keeping all my original editions for my children and their children, and I urge you to do the same.