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Children's books are being rewritten? Tell us something new!

The quest to cleanse literature of what children today perceive as incorrect language now hits even the most incorrect and obnoxious of children's book authors.

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Children's books are being rewritten? Tell us something new!

The quest to cleanse literature of what children today perceive as incorrect language now hits even the most incorrect and obnoxious of children's book authors. English publisher Puffin has made "hundreds of changes" to Roald Dahl's children's books to eliminate "hurting" language and make the stories more inclusive. This is reported by the “Guardian” with numerous examples.

The character of the eating disordered Augustus Gloop, who is shown as a German in the two film adaptations of the "Chocolate Factory", is no longer called "fat" but described as "enormous". In "The Twits", which is less well-known in this country, it is no longer said about the eponymous couple that they are "ugly and beastly", but only as "beastly".

The whole process is reminiscent of similar interventions in Astrid Lindgren's "Pippi Longstocking" or Otfried Preussler's "The Little Witch" in the early 2010s. Suddenly Pippi's father was no longer "Negro King" but "South Sea King" and old Herr Preussler himself had the "Negroes" replaced by "Knife Throwers". But the interventions at Dahl are much more massive.

Also changed were passages that no longer conform to current beliefs regarding gender and sex. Miss Trunchbull in "Matilda", previously "a most formidable female" in the English original, became "a most formidable woman", because children should learn at an early age that a woman does not necessarily have to be biologically female.

The publisher Puffin justified the changes, which he was supported by a professional “sensitive reading”, with the fact that they were necessary so that the books “could still be enjoyed by everyone today”. You can confidently translate this as: We are very worried that at some point there will be no more lucrative film adaptations of Dahl stories and booksellers who drink oats will boycott the books.

The concern is well founded in that Dahl not only wrote pretty nasty stories that could upset today's children's psyche packed in cotton wool, but because he was an anti-Semite and racist in real life, which is always the case in his books shines through. Even during his lifetime he changed the depiction of the Oompa Loompa in the “Chocolate Factory” because it was perceived as clichéd and racist. He didn't have a problem with that, because ultimately his aim was to earn money with his books - and if there were stylistic and content-related issues in the way - then it just had to be done. For the same reason, the Roald Dahl Story Company, which owns the rights to his books, now has no objection.

The incident itself is far less outrageous than it is now being treated by the usual suspects. Children's books have always been edited for purely commercial and understanding reasons. When Erich Kästner wrote "Emil and the Detectives", the children still put the gangster Mr. Grundeis in a "deposit fund", today it says "Sparkasse". And no version of "Robinson Crusoe" intended for children and young people today corresponds to the original from the 18th century.

The interventions are often even more massive when books are translated and adapted for a foreign readership. Astrid Lindgren's novel "Madita", which has also been read hundreds of thousands of times in Germany, is set, for example, at the time of the First World War. All relevant comments were deleted when the book was otherwise beautifully translated into German by Anna-Liese Kornitzky. People used to be sensitive to other issues than they are today: The first version of "Casablanca", which was released in German cinemas in 1952, was completely free of Nazis, Major Strasser and all Wehrmacht uniform wearers were cut out. And Viktor László became the harried inventor of some “delta rays”.

This is of course just as outrageous as the first German "translation" of Asterix published by Rolf Kauka (the inventor of "Fix und Foxi") in 1965. The Gauls became Germans, the Goths were Saxons with a GDR background and the Romans spoke with an American accent like the main occupying power at the time. This is outrageous because it makes the reader or viewer stupid.

And that is exactly the problem with the most massive current interventions in Dahl's books. Not only words were exchanged, but entire passages were inserted. In "Hexen hexen" a paragraph about the bald-headed witches who wear wigs in order not to be recognized is supplemented by several sentences that do not come from Dahl. Now it is explained to the children: "There are many reasons why women wear wigs and there is certainly nothing wrong with them."

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