For decades, one of the annoying things in Hollywood was that they’d modify their films to appease Chinese censors. A recent example was the movie Top Gun: Maverick, which had edited a patch on Tom Cruise’s character to remove a flag for Taiwan. In the clip appeasing China, the trailer used a Japanese flag instead. The movie ended up switching back to the correct flag used in the original film.
Hollywood’s intent was the appeasement of a draconian regime. Something similar is happening in America. This past week, the publisher Puffin announced it would start selling “sensitive” and “inclusive” versions of Roald Dahl’s books. Words continue to be dangerous, but instead of banning books, the cultural police are editing them.
On some level, I can’t fathom editing and changing another person’s published work. I don’t mean it in a satirical way. I mean in a way that says, “my morality is superior, and your work needs this done.” In a report, “References to characters’ physical appearances have been sanitized, with the words’ fat’ and ‘ugly’ now missing from every new edition of the books … So-called “sensitivity readers” were hired to make the changes.”
Puffin completely changes lines and meanings.
How are they doing this? By rewriting rhymes and sections:
In the original James and the Giant Peach, a character rhymes, “Aunt Sponge was terrifically fat / And tremendously flabby at that,” and, “Aunt Spiker was thin as a wire / And dry as a bone, only drier.”
With the new changes, the old verses now read: “Aunt Sponge was a nasty old brute / And deserved to be squashed by the fruit,” and, “Aunt Spiker was much of the same / And deserves half of the blame.”
The publisher said, “When publishing new print runs of books written years ago, it’s not unusual to review the language used alongside updating other details including a book’s cover and page layout. Our guiding principle throughout has been to maintain the storylines, characters, and the irreverence and sharp-edged spirit of the original text. Any changes made have been small and carefully considered.”
But note with the examples above, they’ve completely changed what the rhymes are referencing. Instead of referring to physical appearances, readily observable by a young reader, the edits refer to internal character. The book is considerably lessened because one of the rules of writing is to show, not tell. The new versions violate that.
No longer the same work.
The old Greek philosophy paradox of the Ship of Thesus asks: how much can you change something before it becomes something entirely new? In their example, all the parts of a famous ship are slowly replaced over time with nothing original still attached. Is it still the same thing? It may be if you substitute everything to keep it as it is.
But if you’re changing everything and replacing it with something different, the answer is “No!” These edits are not Roald Dahl’s works. He didn’t pen them, authorize them, or anything. He’s been dead for 30+ years. These are new works attempting to ride off Dahl’s name without being the thing he created.
Further, we all know that the changes made to these books are temporary. These sensitive editors are bringing Dahl’s works up to a new “year zero” morality for progressivism. In five years, their work will get criticized as being backward and violating some “ism” dreamed up by new sensitivity readers.
These editors want a world without the sins they see everywhere, so they’ve set about remaking everything in their own image that changes every year. The impulse is no different from the Chinese censors, terrorist groups tearing down ancient art, or more. Although when a book is banned, that’s at least a tacit admission that what the author created has meaning and can’t be changed. These new editors don’t even have that pause.
Remaking art into temporary moralist snapshots.
The newly published works are not those of Dahl. They’re a bastardization of an artist’s works that assert the originals are evil and should be done away with. But we’re given no description of what a final text should look like, only what the text should be this week. We’ll be given the new text of what we should all believe at a later date because, rest assured, Dahl’s work will always be “problematic” to a future radical.
That’s not because Dahl is an evil force. The radical has an ever-changing list of demands that society constantly violates. We will never be in compliance with the radicals because they believe in utopia. Of course, the irony of utopia is that it’s a place that does not exist.
Dahl wrote imaginative stories for children. Sensitivity editors believe they can remake the world through the word. These editors have nothing to offer. They can’t even tell their own stories; they must remake what others have created.
We were smart enough to reject Chinese authoritarians. We should reject these editors for the same reason.