Every time I think the world's insanity has reached its lowest point, I turn around and something even more wacky stares me in the face.
This week: the whole business of editing Roald Dahl's work, what I personally consider to be the best children's books in the world. It's a shame.
I have so many great memories about Roald Dahl's books. The first one is that of my mother, hysterically laughing while reading his stories to me. The joy of being read to became ever so much more memorable because she had tears of laughter streaming down her face while reading about the Twits (the horrible couple that hated each other and thought of awful pranks to make each other's lives more miserable).
When I was eleven, my grandfather died. We lived in Singapore, traveling was expensive, so my parents went to the funeral in the Netherlands by themselves, while my brothers and I stayed with friends. I was staying with a very close friend but since I was never a big fan of sleepovers, I felt alone.
Luckily, I had a few books of Roald Dahl on CD, and I would listen to his stories at night before going to sleep. They kept me company, made me laugh and filled my heart.
So naturally, when we had our children, my husband and I read Roald Dahl's books over and over to them. And our children have the same memory of hearing a wonderful story, with their parents in stitches and being allowed a few 'naughty' moments because Mr. Twit calls his wife something nasty.
What makes Roald Dahl's books so brilliant is the combination of his creativity and imagination poured into absurd stories with naughty elements, hilarious new words that make for a speedy, fun and thrilling reading experience, for both adults and children. And that is rare to come by in children's books.
I have never read any book – and I've done my very fair share of bedtime story reading – as funny as Roald Dahl's. The nasty pranks that the Twits conjure up to badger each other; how the monkey goes completely berserk when he takes the lead to stick all their furniture to the ceiling; the great names given to the nasty giants in the BFG; the scary but exciting and fun portrayal of what the witches look like; the increasing frenzy of the Fantastic Mr. Fox; I could go on forever.
The books of Roald Dahl are simply unique – and I use that word very sparsely.
So, the fact that some people deem it necessary to edit them to make them more inclusive or 'woke' is beyond me.
For the record, I am not against inclusion nor am I anti-woke. It's just that this specific case hits a new level of absurdity. The edits are, in my opinion, focused on appeasing an ever increasing, overly sensitive group of people that want to find fault in everything and who are unable to distinguish between an innocent sense of humour (being devoid of that themselves) and offensive language used to purposefully hurt people.
And yes, I am aware that some language is hurtful to some while being completely innocent in the eyes of others. I get the difficulty of certain words.
But let's take a look at some of the edits in Roald Dahl's books – unfortunately, I can't discuss all of them as there are hundreds – and see how offensive his works really are. Here's hoping you'll agree with me that this is just 'round the frigging bend'.
If you've read The Witches, you'll know that Roald Dahl has very simple, yet descriptive ways to depict witches. They have blue tongues; they always wear gloves because their hands are horrid, and they are bald. Now, I can only speak for myself, but I never once believed that, upon seeing a bald woman, I thought she was a witch.
Nor have I ever thought anything unkind of bald women. But in the edited version of the witches, after the description of what witches look like, they have apparently added something along the lines of it being okay to be bald, that it can happen for many reasons, and one need not be afraid of bald people.
However true and compassionate that statement may be intended, by adding such a 'disclaimer' to that sentence, the reader is instantly pulled out of the story and put back into the real world. This negates the whole point of reading stories in the first place.
If you ask me, the joy of reading is to be transported to a completely different space and time. To open up to an imaginative world. To be lifted into the strange, absurd or just different.
It's such a shame.
Or how about the word fat. According to the sensitivity readers that are responsible for the edits, fat shaming was an issue in Roald Dahl’s books. That’s why they have replaced 'fat' with 'enormous'. I have a problem with that.
First of all, I have the impression that Roald Dahl often used words like that in a descriptive and purposeful way, not to ridicule. For instance, in Matilda, describing one boy, Bruce Bogtrotter, as fat is not unkind, but instrumental for a part of the story. Plus, it adds to the demise of the head teacher, Miss Trunchbull.
Bruce is fat because he eats too much. That is not shaming; that is logic. It's his love for chocolate that seduces him to steal a piece of chocolate pie from Miss Trunchbull. She punishes him by forcing him to eat an entire chocolate pie in front of the whole school.
His tenaciousness leads to the whole school cheering him on. He wins, he is the hero, and the much-loathed Miss Trunchbull looks like a prize-idiot. Being fat made Bruce the winner. A skinny kid wouldn't have been able to finish the whole pie. It wouldn't have been believable. So, it's not fat-shaming, it is instrumental.
Furthermore, let's say for the sake of argument that Roald Dahl did intend to ridicule the fat. Will the use of the word 'enormous' now undo the shaming of big people? I don't think so. If I fit the description, personally, I would much rather be referred to as fat than as enormous.
One of the saddest edits, I have to say, is that the word ugly has been removed from all books.
How very unnecessary and inexplicable, that last one. Especially, as Roald Dahl explains in his book that Mrs Twit used to be quite pretty but that her nasty and angry character had made her ugly. Apart from the fact that her ugliness and that of her husband are an integral part of why the couple are at each other's throats, there is actually a valuable lesson in it: nasty thoughts cause ugliness, pleasant thoughts make people pretty.
Roald Dahl basically argues that beauty comes from the inside. If anything, this should be applauded by those sensitive readers.
We should all have been so lucky as to have had our bedtimes brought to life with the wonderful, exciting, imaginative and hilarious work of Roald Dahl. If anything, we should protect his work. We should massively try to get our hands on the previous editions of his books. Editing them to this, so-called 'inclusive' level is far-fetched and only dries up and fades the colourfulness and absolute genius of Roald Dahl's writing.
I have never considered myself insensitive, but if that's what I am in today's world, then I happily concur. I'll prefer the company of Roald Dahl's books over today's overly sensitive society any day.
Further reading: Publisher Puffin UK on Friday announced it would release the original versions of Roald Dahl's children's books to keep the "classic texts in print" following a wave of criticism over their re-editing for a modern audience.