Cardiff Bay Evening at Roald Dahl Plass

Is It Possible to Fix the Hate in Literature?

It’s interesting to watch people get riled up about the censorship of Roald Dahl. The Roald Dahl Story Company owns the rights to his books and has worked with Puffin Books to edit out offensive words so “Dahl’s wonderful stories and characters continue to be enjoyed by all children today.” In collaboration with Inclusive Minds, they made “small and carefully considered” changes to eliminate certain words that offend. Fat did not make the cut. Instead, Augustus Gloop is now just enormous – not enormously fat. But this begs an important question. Is it really possible to fix the hate in a work of literature?

Hate Is the Problem

It’s just as hard to deny that Dahl held a lot of hateful ideas as it would be to deny that he was a talented writer. For one thing, he was forthright in confessing that he was an antisemite. He told the New Statesman in 1983:

“There is a trait in the Jewish character that does provoke animosity, maybe it’s a kind of lack of generosity towards non-Jews . . . Even a stinker like Hitler didn’t just pick on them for no reason.”

Likewise, his work made it clear that he hated fat people. Writing in Slate, Annalisa Quinn explains just how much Dahl hated and feared fatness:

“The way Dahl writes about fat people is horrible, but it’s more complicated than just fat-shaming: He sees food as having terrible and frightening power. Fear – if we want to armchair psychoanalyze – must account for some of this brutality. ‘I’d rather be dead than fat,’ Roald Dahl told his future wife on their first date.”

Editing Might Help Sales

So does removing the word fat solve the problems we might have with a hateful author expressing contempt for enormously large people? Nope.

But the principle here is all about protecting a $500 million investment by Netflix in the rights to Dahl’s works, as Gaby Hinsliff points out in the Guardian:

“This looks more like a hardheaded business decision to protect those Netflix rights and avoid Dahl sharing the fate of the equally beloved Dr. Seuss, some of whose titles were dropped in the U.S. after being deemed culturally insensitive.”

Editing doesn’t fix the hate in Roald Dahl’s literature. It merely serves as a tool for keeping it palatable and profitable.

Click here and here for more on the edits generating all this buzz.

Cardiff Bay Evening at Roald Dahl Plass, photograph by Michael C. / WikiMedia Commons

Subscribe by email to follow the accumulating evidence and observations that shape our view of health, obesity, and policy.


February 23, 2023