Whitewashing Monsters

News: Commentary
by Samuel McCarthy  •  ChurchMilitant.com  •  February 20, 2023   

Why woke publishers 'editing' children's classics is a bad thing

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Publishers are editing the work of beloved children's author Roald Dahl to promote woke ideologies to youth. While the edits made to Dahl's books have sparked widespread outrage and criticism, a Catholic should be less incensed over what GB News called the "butchering" of literary staples and far more concerned over the Orwellian attempt to directly influence children's worldviews.

Roald Dahl

On Friday, The Telegraph reported that Puffin (the children's imprint of Penguin Random House publishing) had made "hundreds" of changes to Dahl's work, including such favorites as Charlie and the Chocolate Factory, James and the Giant Peach, Fantastic Mr. Fox and Matilda. Among the many changes are the removal of every instance of the word "fat", the alteration of phrasing to promote feminism and even the changing of characters' sexes — for example, the Oompa Loompas are now "gender neutral."

The mention of Rudyard Kipling and Joseph Conrad in Matilda has been deleted due to leftists associating the authors with so-called colonialism. Oddly enough, the reference to Ernest Hemingway in the same sentence remains, despite the fact that he killed himself with a shotgun. It's clear that the publishers consider colonialism so bad that children need to be shielded from it, but they apparently consider suicide something to which children can be safely exposed. The greedy, obese Augustus Gloop, who falls into Willy Wonka's chocolate vat and gets stuck in a pipe, is no longer described as "fat," nor is the cruel, vicious, overweight Aunt Sponge from James and the Giant Peach. The Witches is practically rewritten in its entirety, with publishers softening the titular, child-killing demons.

Dilution & Replacement

Although he himself had a strained relationship with Christianity, Dahl wrote children's stories with notably Christian themes and principles. The author has been criticized in the past for exaggerating the qualities of his characters, especially in making the minds and appearances of his villains so outrageously ugly. This was, however, intentional on Dahl's part.

He once explained that, when writing for children, one had to exaggerate all of a character's qualities: "If a person is nasty or bad or cruel, you make them very nasty and very bad and very cruel. And if they're ugly, you make them extremely ugly."

Raised on his mother's Norwegian folk and fairy tales, Dahl saw children's stories as a way to form and prepare children to conquer the evil he knew they would face later on in life. This is a theory shared by some of Christianity's most profound thinkers and most celebrated writers.

Dahl saw children's stories as a way to form and prepare children to conquer the evil he knew they would face later on in life.

C.S. Lewis once wrote, "Since it is so likely that [children] will meet cruel enemies, let them at least have heard of brave knights and heroic courage. Otherwise, you are making their destiny not brighter but darker."

Similarly, the Catholic author G.K. Chesterton wrote:

Fairy tales, then, are not responsible for producing in children fear, or any of the shapes of fear; fairy tales do not give the child the idea of the evil or the ugly; that is in the child already, because it is in the world already. Fairy tales do not give the child his first idea of bogey. What fairy tales give the child is his first clear idea of the possible defeat of bogey. The baby has known the dragon intimately ever since he had an imagination. What the fairy tale provides for him is a St. George to kill the dragon.

Dahl's children's stories aren't, strictly speaking, fairy tales, but they contain many of the same elements as fairy tales. Not only are they full of fantasy, whimsical figures and a sense of magic — those are all mere cosmetic qualities, so to speak — but they tell children that there is evil in this world, that good triumphs over evil and that virtue trumps vice. His books don't often feature the St. George figure that Chesterton speaks of, but instead, they prepare children to be heroes themselves.

Roald Dahl books

Most of Dahl's villains are easier to spot than villains in real life, like the awful aunts Spiker and Sponge in James and the Giant Peach or the ugly, child-eating giants in The BFG. But in The Witches, the villains disguise themselves, wearing fancy gloves to cover their claws and elaborate wigs to cover their bald, scarred heads. Witches, Dahl explains, tempt and sweet-talk children, offering them pleasant treats and tantalizing rewards, before doing awful things to them. Interestingly enough, the publishers at Puffin hacked and changed The Witches almost beyond recognition in an effort to soften the villains and make them, in simple terms, less villainous. It may not be a coincidence that the same cultural current that promotes drag shows for children is trying to beautify the child-hungry, wig-wearing witches — whom Dahl explains are "demons."

Whether in Matilda, The Witches or James and the Giant Peach, the heroes always triumph over the villains, and those heroes are almost always children. In some cases, the child-hero may have help from a good-hearted, noble authority or parent figure, like the Big Friendly Giant in The BFG or Danny's father, William, in Danny, the Champion of the World. But no matter the case, good triumphs over evil, and Dahl invites and encourages his young readers to be the good that triumphs over evil.

News Report: What Is Speech?

In other stories, there isn't a villain per se, but Dahl shows children the consequences of vice and the rewards of virtue. In Charlie and the Chocolate Factory, for example, the children who are gluttonous, greedy, selfish and, in every case, disobedient get their just desserts. Vice results in children being sucked up into tubes, tossed down garbage chutes, turned permanently blue and stretched out across taffy machines. Charlie remains virtuous, with no promise of a reward, with no goal in mind other than simply being virtuous. In the end, he is gifted a whole chocolate factory.

In The Abolition of Man, C.S. Lewis discusses the purpose of such things as education and literature, concluding, "The task of the modern educator is not to cut down jungles but to irrigate deserts. The right defense against false sentiments is to inculcate just sentiments. ... [T]he task is to train in the pupil those responses which are in themselves appropriate... ."

 Dahl invites and encourages his young readers to be the good that triumphs over evil.

Dahl is, clearly, in complete agreement with Lewis, using his literature to encourage children to not only appreciate heroism and virtue but to actually be heroic and virtuous.

The edits made to Dahl's work serve a twofold purpose: The first is diluting the heroism and virtue Dahl wishes to instill in his readers, and the second is replacing it with woke standards on which children may greedily feast. The publisher's alterations to these children's classics tell children it's less important to avoid vices like greed and gluttony and more important to avoid the social taboo of "fatphobia."

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