Rishi Sunak has criticised the decision to rewrite Roald Dahl children’s books for a modern audience – urging the publisher not to “gobblefunk” with the language.
The Roald Dahl Story Company and Puffin Books confirmed they were reviewing material deemed offensive – such as references to weight, mental health, violence, gender and race.
But the prime minister joined leading authors Salman Rushdie and Philip Pullman in warning against the move – quoting Dahl’s The BFG as he described it as “airbrushing” the past.
Mr Sunak’s official spokesman said: “When it comes to our rich and varied literary heritage, the prime minister agrees with the BFG that we shouldn’t gobblefunk around with words.”
The No 10 official added: “I think it’s important that works of literature and works of fiction are preserved and not airbrushed. We have always defended the right to free speech and expression.”
Some of the edits reportedly include removing the word “fat” from every book. Augustus Gloop in Charlie and The Chocolate Factory is instead to be described as “enormous”.
Booker-of-Booker prize winner Mr Rushdie said Mr Dahl was “no angel” but claimed that edits to his books are “absurd censorship” – saying both Puffin Books and the Dahl estate “should be ashamed”.
Mr Pullman, author of His Dark Materials, said he would rather that Mr Dahl’s work be allowed to go out of print rather than airbrushed.
“Read all of these wonderful authors who are writing today, who don’t get as much of a look-in because of the massive commercial gravity of people like Roald Dahl,” he said,
Among those criticising the changes to the children’s classics was Suzanne Nossel, the head of PEN America, a community of over 7,000 writers advocating for freedom of expression.
Ms Nossel warned that the power to rewrite books could soon be abused. “Those who might cheer specific edits to Dahl’s work should consider how the power to rewrite books might be used in the hands of those who do not share their values and sensibilities.”
The Roald Dahl Story Company claim their review process has been ongoing since 2020 and that any edits were “small and carefully considered”.
They worked in collaboration with Puffin and Inclusive Minds, a collective for people working towards inclusion and accessibility in children’s literature.
A spokesperson for the Roald Dahl Story Company said: “We want to ensure that Roald Dahl’s wonderful stories and characters continue to be enjoyed by all children today.
“When publishing new print runs of books written years ago, it’s not unusual to review the language used … Our guiding principle throughout has been to maintain the storylines, characters, and the irreverence and sharp-edged spirit of the original text.”
Dahl died in 1990 at the age of 74 but has regularly topped the list of the nation’s favourite authors. However, he was a controversial figure due to antisemitic comments made throughout his life.
In 2020, his family apologised, saying they recognised the “lasting and understandable hurt caused by Roald Dahl’s antisemitic statements”.