Puffin decided to bring in ‘sensitivity readers’ to help edit some of the descriptions in Dahl’s children’s books. The reason behind it is to ensure the books “can continue to be enjoyed by all today” but since seeing the edits made, it is hard to tell if these changes are for the better or not.
It is hard to see the point in changing the word ‘female’ to ‘woman’ when it is clear Dahl chose ‘female’ for the alliteration with ‘formidable’ before it. It’s not like he has a habit of calling all women ‘females’ like some sneering Ferengi from Star Trek.
Many of the changes made seem to be coming from a good place, but have missed the mark. Changing ‘fat’ to ‘enormous’ does nothing but put a judgement on the word ‘fat’. It says more about the editor than anyone else. Is ‘fat’ inherently bad? Is it suddenly the worst thing in the world to be called ‘fat’? I know I would rather be called fat than enormous!
Completely altering or adding sentences feels like the publishers are trying too hard to impress someone who never asked for it. Eventually creating a grotesquely sanitised version of a series of books that were clearly of their time, and should probably be preserved that way. If we are truly worried about what messages children are picking up from these books then maybe the publishers should take a page from Disney’s book (so to speak) and put a small disclaimer at the start of each one explaining that the books were written a long time ago and may depict some characters or descriptions that some people may find offensive.
The books have never been considered sweet or gentle stories for sweet and gentle children, so why worry about such small details? The stories themselves are not all sunshine and rainbows, and it doesn’t seem changing the description of Oompa Loompas from ‘men’ to ‘people’ will change that.
It really seems like a waste of time to be making such bizarre changes. And perhaps, if we are to be cynical about it, it just comes down to money. Create a stir, keep different edits of the book on sale, keep the Dahl name in the media and in the public consciousness, and keep the money rolling in.