Fat-Headed Censors

ExACTly. Worth a read, I think, as are all posts from Travel Between the Pages, a blog which is ‘the intersection between travel, books, and art’. Always interesting, usually thought-provoking, often funny.

Travel Between The Pages

You would have to have been living under a basket to avoid the recent brouhaha over the re-editing of classic books by so-called sensitivity readers and editors. Here in the Colonies we’ve been through this with the books of Dr. Seuss and other popular children’s authors. Now, the UK has gone mad censoring works by Roald dahl and others.

McSweeney’s recently posted a pointed response to this nonsence in an article by Peter Wisniewski aptly titled “FUCK YOU, YOU FAT-HEADED ROALD DAHL-CENSORING FUCKERS.”

Dear Fat-Headed Roald Dahl-Censoring Fuckers,

You’re censors. You’re not editors, and you’re not readers. You’re censors. You are exactly what Orwell warned us about.

So fuck you.

Without the author’s consent, you are changing and omitting words that the author wrote. That makes you a censor. An agent of censorship. Only fascists censor books.

What you’re doing is crazy. See? We said it. Crazy. Crazy. Crazy.

You…

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Author: margaret21

I'm retired and living in North Yorkshire, where I walk as often as I can, write, volunteer, and travel as often as I can.

42 thoughts on “Fat-Headed Censors”

  1. Great cartoon. We are in a world where even some undergraduates are issued ‘trauma’ alert warnings re some of the literature they have to read. Snowflake is not the word as each has its amazing difference!

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  2. Well, that was a dramatic read. I can appreciate some of the author’s points. It’s a shame others are inaccurate, though. Dahl wouldn’t have hated Puffin Books for changing his words. He did it himself. The original Oompa Loompas, for example, were kidnapped Pygmy people.

    I found this article illuminating https://theconversation.com/from-roald-dahl-to-goosebumps-revisions-to-childrens-classics-are-really-about-copyright-a-legal-expert-explains-201246 – reshaping children’s literature to be more relevant to each new generation that reads it has always happened. The writer of the piece you shared seemed particularly aerated by the loss of the occupation cashier. Perhaps that role has a different name now. The Conversation article also points out that each edition still exists and, once copyright has expired, anyone can publish whichever version they like. So they’re not censored, you can still choose to read earlier editions, intentionally or accidentally if you pick up a secondhand copy.

    I can see both sides. As an archivist, maintaining the original record is an important part of my job as it reflects society at that moment in time, but it’s also important to acknowledge that some attitudes and beliefs are now understood to be harmful and offensive. Archivists manage it by including a warning about the outdated and offensive language in our catalogue records and acknowledge that attitudes and understanding of certain terminology have changed. And yes, anyone in any particular group that identifies as a minority has the right to reclaim offensive terminology, just as others have the right to continue to find it offensive. We’re a rich tapestry. In historical documents, we mustn’t censor.

    These books aren’t history, though, they’re fiction. We can still have our fond memories of the racist, fattist, misogynistic classics, but isn’t it good to think that new generations don’t have to be exposed to those same offensive and pejorative portrayals? Particularly those for whom ongoing colonial attitudes harm them?

    Thanks for sharing the article, Margaret, it was interesting.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thanks for such a long and considered reply Jan, and for the article which I’ve read now, but perhaps not with all the attention I shall give to it later. I think there’s a world of difference between an author reconsidering her/his work post publication, and someone doing it on her/his behalf, perhaps without consultation. And I also think there’s a world of difference between having the wherewithal, whether through education, mentoring or just good old Life Experience to constructively criticize works which contain elements which we now – rightly – find unacceptable, and allowing such texts to inform your views. But I’d hate to think that we could only have access to work which only promulgated Right Thinking. And in any case, we may credit such books with more influence than they actually have. It’s clear that Roald Dahl has played no part in my now adult children’s world view, even though they read him voraciously and largely uncritically at the time. Just as I haven’t, I think, been damaged by Little Black Sambo (though I wouldn’t let my then mother-in-law give it to our children). There’s an interesting article in today’s Guardian: https://www.the guardian.com/books/2023/mar/15/sensitivity-readers-what-publishings-most-polarising-role-is-really-all-about . I found it quite reassuring actually.

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      1. I read the Guardian article, too, this morning. I’m with Charlie Higson.

        As is the case for your children, I’d also say that Dahl and other authors who expressed themselves in the language of their time with the attitudes of their time didn’t negatively influence my adult world view. Nor did my awful racist dad. Or the programmes I watched on the telly. Thankfully I had other influences to counter it. I’d say being smacked for being naughty didn’t harm me, too, but I don’t think that’s a reason for smacking to continue. And yes, I do think there are parallels between physical harm and emotional or mental harm. It has nothing to do with how thick your skin is, either.

        There are plenty of opportunities in life to explain to children why certain attitudes/behaviours/words aren’t appropriate and if updating works of fiction means we’re kinder to people who might experience harm from those attitudes/behaviours/words, why not do it? I haven’t read any of the altered works, so I don’t know whether the removal of certain words or phrases spoils the enjoyment of the story. From what Charlie Higson says in the Guardian piece, it sounds as though the changes have been badly written, which is a different thing to censorship.

        It does seem rum to me to want to expose children today to the shit we were exposed to, whether it negatively impacted us or not, though. But that’s just my perspective.

        Have you seen Tom Gauld’s other recent cartoon about people’s reactions on a scale of “Read the controversial book” to “Hasn’t read a word but not letting that get in the way of a good rant”? That’s what sprang to my mind when I read the article you shared. Here it is on Instagram https://www.instagram.com/p/CozWAheMoiU/?igshid=YmMyMTA2M2Y= I fully expect you to say that you don’t use Instagram, but I don’t know how to add a picture to a comment in the app!

        Thanks for indulging my long replies in your comments section. It’s a big topic, but I’m going to shut up now. 😊

        Liked by 1 person

      2. I don’t have Instagram, but I do like Tom Gauld, who always hits the nail on the head, and I had seen this one. I still think that anyone but the author changing things is a step down a long, and perhaps slow road to censorship with all its negative connotations. But as you say, that’s just my perspective.

        Liked by 1 person

  3. So sad…censored for not being within the accepted range of what’s currently permissable. I just re-read Fahrenheit 451 by Ray Bradbury. He was so prescient. Firemen burning books!

    Liked by 3 people

  4. It seems quite the done thing to try to re-write history nowadays.

    What we did made us what we are, whatever today’s moral view is. The profits made have left legacies which everybody now enjoys. Whilst many of the practices are abhorrent through todays lens, at one time it was normal and respectable for children to work and to keep slaves in appealing conditions. The world over.

    Kevin Coxon +44 (0)7770 878764

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Indeed. The fact that it was normal doesn’t make it right of course. But I’m impressed by the way that places like Harewood House, for example, built entirely from the profits from slavery, now does all it can to try to redress the balance in its exhibition programmes and its policies. This seems a constructive way forward.

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  5. I’m pretty much 100% behind this article. As a former children’s librarian in the UK I was always horrified by the battles that went on the US over texts we would never have considered banning, and this sort of censorship horrifies me equally. Yes, there are some novels written in the past that use language we would never condone today and these need to be handled carefully, with the context explained to the reading child. If a publisher is nervous about that language they can add a clear foreword reminding readers that values and attitudes have changed since the book was written. And librarians and teachers have a role to play in ensuring children come to a book only when they are old enough to understand the context, and in promoting debate about changing values.

    Just maybe I would accept the alteration of a single very offensive word if it meant that a book could reach a wider audience but I’d have to think seriously about whether the end justified the means or not in each individual case. Wholesale censorship should never be condoned!

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    1. I agree. I don’t know if you read Jan Hick’s long and considered comment, but I have now replied to her. She comes from a similar background to you – archivist in her case – so you will have confronted similar issues. Book burning and similar is never pretty.

      Liked by 1 person

      1. Yes, she and I will have had similar professional backgrounds, although archivists are more focused on preservation than librarians. But that’s different – they’re preserving original documents, which is of course important, whereas a librarian will happily I hope) dispose of a printed book if it’s outlived its shelf-life. Tattiness and declining interest from borrowers are good reasons to withdraw a book; censorship is not. And I really agree with your point to Jan about childhood reading of these texts not doing any harm in terms of an adult’s thinking, although that’s all about balance. Maybe if ALL you’d read was Little Black Sambo (I read that too btw, AND collected the little paper cut-outs from Robinson’s jam jars, AND had a golly!!) it would have had more influence?

        Liked by 1 person

      2. Dear fellow-golly-owner, that’s the crux of course. If there’s airing of the issues, exposure to a range of views, even if distasteful, probably does little harm. It’s if that’s the only view that it becomes difficult. That’s where schools … and libraries of course, come in, I guess.

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  6. I agree that today’s wokeness tendencies have taken complete overhand, but on the other hand the article seems like an exaggerated response. This is not to be compared to censorship, where certain content isn’t allowed to be published. No books will be burned and you can still continue to read (and buy) the original version if you prefer.

    Also, the discussion isn’t as black /white as the blogger seems to think. I doubt many readers are mad about Agatha Christie’s much beloved And Then There Were None had its original title changed and the N word removed from the book. And even if I agree children are not stupid, they may be more impressionable than adults, who have more background to put things into perspective. I have read other blog posts from parents to young children talking about examples, which sounded more justified than this example.

    Following loads of book bloggers and booktubers, I know many wouldn’t want to read books where the word “fat” and similar are used a lot. So they can chose the modified version and the rest of us can chose the original. Personally, I don’t have issues with that.

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  7. Love that well tempered Wiesnieski quote! I grew up near Theodore Geisel and used to sneak into his backyard with my friends to try and get a glimpse of him, poor guy! His books, like Dahl’s, are one of a kind and my grandson’s adore them. Books are reflections of the times when they were written. Changing them white-washes history and seems so counter to learning the lessions of history. How can we not repeat history’s mistakes if we white wash them out of existance? Dahl was a complicated man and his books reflect this. I think these excessively ‘woke’ individuals with their witless agendas are in need of very long naps.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Indeed, books are reflections of their time, and many are not written with modern sensibilities in mind. As you say, we need to learn from them (only we don’t ever, learn from history, do we? Sadly)

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  8. You poked a stick in wasp’s nest there for sure.

    For my part I was at first annoyed but then I read more and began to understand it. Commercial reasons to retain the appeal of the books in the modern day so they continue to compete with modern attitudes. I sort of get it. I see that the Ian Fleming Bond books are now being reviewed to be more appropriate to modern values.

    I like to watch old repeats of “Whatever Happened to the Likely Lads” (very sad I agree) these now air with a warning that they represented the opinions, views and language of the time and some people might now find them offensive. I think that is a good compromise, don’t censor them but if you think that you might be offended then don’t watch them.

    So go ahead, rewrite Roald Dahl and Ian Fleming but don’t throw the originals on the bonfire. People’s choice I think. If you suspect that you might be offended then don’t read them. Absolutely do not read them and then complain.

    Thanks for such a provocative post. I enjoyed it and the comments.

    Liked by 1 person

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