French, Dutch Publishers Draw a Line in the Sand - No More Woke Rewrites


When you’re counting on the Dutch and the French to hold the line against leftism gone amok in the Anglosphere, I think it’s safe to say things have gone very awry.

But, yes, let’s take a moment to thank our Dutch and French cousins. Sure, the Dutch sent the United States packing in the World Cup, and the French still haven’t apologized for the Renault Le Car and Gérard Depardieu — among many, many other things. But at least both societies know enough to leave the work of Roald Dahl alone.

According to the U.K. Telegraph, publishers of Dahl’s work in those countries say they have no intention of changing books like “Charlie and the Chocolate Factory” or “Matilda” to fit into the woke mores of 2023 with the help of “sensitivity readers.”

The late author’s European publishers say that the works “lose all their power” if the words are changed.

Last week, Dahl publisher Puffin Books had made changes to the books to reduce the sting of certain descriptors. For instance, Augustus Gloop — he’s the adipose kid who’s the first to go when he falls into the river of chocolate, if you’ve only seen the 1971 cinematic adaptation “Willie Wonka and the Chocolate Factory” — is no longer described as “fat.” That’s fat-phobia, after all. Instead, he’s “enormous.”

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The Telegraph reported that Puffin said it made such changes to ensure Dahl’s books “can continue to be enjoyed by all today.”

Other changes? Still sticking with “Charlie and the Chocolate Factory,” the Ooompa Loompas are no longer described as “tiny,” “titchy,” or “no higher than my knee.” In addition, the censors Ooompa Loompa doompety don’t assign them a gender, changing “small men” to “small people.”

Joris van de Leur — director of De Fontein, which publishes Dahl’s books in the Netherlands — said he would likely stick with the original text.

“Exaggerations are a figure of speech with him: if a person is fat, it represents gluttony and excess,” van de Leur said. “Children understand what such literary hyperbole is. They really don’t think all fat kids are greedy.”

He said he would demand an explanation from Puffin for the revisions.

“Roald Dahl is the reason I came to work at this publishing house. His humor is second to none,” van de Leur said. “Fortunately, we have the freedom to see what that means for our translations. We will be careful not to detract from Dahl’s humor.”

Meanwhile, French publisher Gallimard — which handles Dahl’s work, as well as French literary icons like Albert Camus and Marcel Proust — was more terse about the matter: “This rewrite only concerns Britain,” it said. “We have never changed Roald Dahl’s writings before, and we have no plans to do so today.”

And, indeed, the changes go beyond the way the wretched children who entered Willy Wonka’s factory (except for Charlie, of course) are described.

In “James and the Giant Peach,” for example, Aunt Sponge was originally “enormously fat and very short.” She’s now “quite large and very short.”

And then there are more bizarre changes: “Matilda” has seen references to authors Joseph Conrad and Rudyard Kipling — whose works oft deal with colonization — excised from the text. Jane Austen and John Steinbeck were apparently suitable replacements.

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Also, Miss Trunchbull, once described in the book as a “most formidable female,” is now a “most formidable woman.” A witch who worked as “a cashier in a supermarket” in the original is now “a top scientist.”

Meanwhile, the censorship in “The Twits” was apparently performed by even bigger twits, who have replaced “ladies and gentlemen” with “folks.” Uses of the phrase “old hag” have also been removed, presumably by some old hag in the women’s studies department at Bryn Mawr.

Mrs. Twit’s “fearful ugliness” has also been downgraded to “ugliness” (not going to speculate on the kind of person who did that), and one of the most memorable lines from the book has been changed: “You can have a wonky nose and a crooked mouth and a double chin and stick-out teeth, but if you have good thoughts they will shine out of your face like sunbeams,” it originally read.

What came out? The “double chin” part, of course.

Who seems to have agreed with this decision? Pretty much nobody of note, especially not bookworms: Sales of Dahl’s works were up 600 percent in the past week at online seller World of Books, the Telegraph reported.

Also in disagreement with the decision to bowdlerize Dahl’s text? The guy who played Augustus Gloop in the 1971 movie. Yes, even the fat (sorry: “enormous”) kid thinks this is a dumb (sorry: “mentally questionable”) decision.

Actor Michael Bollner, who’s now 64, said he didn’t have an issue with the characterization and thought the whole point of the book was that it “shows you bad behaviors, like that kids should not watch TV and should not eat too much.

“These are good things, I think, so why stop children knowing about this?”

I’m with Augustus. I was already a voracious reader when I picked up “Charlie and the Chocolate Factory” in the third grade and delighted in the fact that Dahl’s original was far more hilarious and wicked than the movie ever was. His entire library was quickly devoured by me for just this reason — and, thankfully, my wife and I, both Dahl fans, long ago purchased all the originals so we don’t have to worry about sensitivity-trained Roald Dahl being all that’s available to our kids.

What’s genuinely astounding and galling to me — at least in what it says about the priorities of the woke — is that “hurtful” language in Dahl’s books (that isn’t hurtful at all) has spurred more action from the cultural knuckle-rappers in academia and publishing than genuinely troublesome words from the author.

For the unaware, Dahl, especially late in his life, was known to make not-infrequent anti-Israeli and anti-Semitic statements — even though, as German radio outlet Deutschlandfunk noted in a 2008 piece, his agent, publisher and his hand-picked choice to lead the Roald Dahl Museum were all Jewish.

It is ever acceptable for a publisher to rewrite parts of classic books?

His family apologized for those remarks in 2020, it’s worth noting, and none of this prejudice can be espied any of the books that are being censored. One can certainly separate the art from the artist here.

However, it merely drives home a point: None of this behavior ever spurred any real consequences, but using words like “fat” to describe a fat kid finally brought in the sensitivity police.

Welcome to 2023, ladies and gentlemen. (Sorry, again: “folks.”) At least the Dutch and the French can still save us — maybe.

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C. Douglas Golden is a writer who splits his time between the United States and Southeast Asia. Specializing in political commentary and world affairs, he's written for Conservative Tribune and The Western Journal since 2014.
C. Douglas Golden is a writer who splits his time between the United States and Southeast Asia. Specializing in political commentary and world affairs, he's written for Conservative Tribune and The Western Journal since 2014. Aside from politics, he enjoys spending time with his wife, literature (especially British comic novels and modern Japanese lit), indie rock, coffee, Formula One and football (of both American and world varieties).
Morristown, New Jersey
Catholic University of America
Languages Spoken
English, Spanish
Topics of Expertise
American Politics, World Politics, Culture