Dulling Dahl for dullards

Piers Morgan calls the rewriting of deceased author Roald Dahl’s books by his publisher a “woke overhaul.” Morgan’s New York Post column links to the Telegraph’s “stunning, damning exposé” headlined with the GIF “The (re)writing of Roald Dahl” (behind the Telegraph paywall).

What’s it all about? Morgan writes: “It’s about the latest salvo in a relentless war on language and art heritage by dementedly self-righteous woke wastrels who think they know better than we do about what we should be allowed to hear, read, watch, laugh at, or think.” Although Morgan’s column could use an edit in its reference to “cow-towing” (ouch), Morgan says it all.

I learn from Andrew Stuttaford’s accessible post at NRO that the Telegraph identifies the responsible parties. Stuttaford quotes the Telegraph story: “Puffin [i.e., Dahl’s publisher] and the Roald Dahl Story Company made the latest changes in conjunction with Inclusive Minds” (which its spokesperson describes as “a collective for people who are passionate about inclusion and accessibility in children’s literature”). I take it that the Roald Dahl Story Company owns the rights to Dahl’s books. It has been acquired by Netflix. This Variety story names the current officers of the RDSC (two Netflix executives and the general manager of the RDSC).

What would Roald Dahl think? Stuttaford cites Dahl’s biographer as quoted in the Telegraph:

Matthew Dennison, who wrote a biography of the author, Teller of the Unexpected, published last year, says Dahl was particular about the language he used. “Dahl typically worked seven days a week for a year on one of his full-length novels and was drained by the experience, which involved extensive rewriting as he worked, followed by a lively back-and-forth with his editor,” he says.

“The process of editing often focused on individual words or particular expressions, as Dahl kept faith with some of the interwar slang of his childhood, and aspects of his vocabulary up to his death continued to recall the enthusiasms of English prep schoolboys. This was both natural to him and deliberate, and he resisted interference.

“His relationships with his editors included marked fractiousness on Dahl’s part,” he adds. “Overruling proposed word changes made by the American editor of The Witches, Stephen Roxburgh, Dahl wrote, ‘I don’t approve of some of your Americanisms. This is an English book with an English flavour and so it should remain.’”

When it came to children’s books, Dennison says Dahl didn’t care what adults thought as long as his target readers were happy. “‘I don’t give a b—-r what grown-ups think,’ was a characteristic statement,” Dennison says. “And I’m almost certain that he would have recognised that alterations to his novels prompted by the political climate were driven by adults rather than children, and this always inspired derision, if not contempt, in Dahl.

“He never, for example, had any truck with librarians who criticised his books as too frightening, lacking moral role models, negative in their portrayal of women, etc,” he continues. “Dahl wrote stories intended to kindle in children a lifelong love of reading and to remind them of the childhood wonderlands of magic and enchantment, aims in which he succeeded triumphantly. Adult anxieties about political niceties didn’t register in this outlook. This said, although Dahl could be unabashed in offending adults, he took pains never to alienate or make unhappy his child readers.”

In Fahrenheit 451, Ray Bradbury conjured up the book-burning fire department of our dystopian future. Who needs to burn books when you can simply whitewash their soul away?

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