Roald Dahl’s classic children’s books including Charlie and the Chocolate Factory and James and the Giant Peach recently received a woke makeover that included the removal of the word “white” in instances completely unrelated to race or ethnicity. Is the color itself suddenly problematic?
Last week, The Telegraph reported that Puffin, a division of Penguin Books, recently published updated versions of several books by beloved children’s author Roald Dahl, including the classics Charlie and the Chocolate Factory and James and the Giant Peach. “Words matter,” they noted on the copyright page of each. “The wonderful words of Roald Dahl can transport you to different worlds and introduce you to the most marvellous characters. This book was written many years ago, and so we regularly review the language to ensure that it can continue to be enjoyed by all today.” This “review” of the language resulted in hundreds of changes to the original works, many of which attempt to rewrite passages that reference “weight, mental health, violence, gender and race,” to use The Telegraph’s description, with the goal of making them safe for modern sensibilities. The publisher and the Roald Dahl Story Company selected a group called Inclusive Minds to assist with these changes, which describes itself as “a collective for people who are passionate about inclusion and accessibility in children’s literature.” Their goal is “to ensure authentic representation, by working closely with the book world and with those who have lived experience of any facet of diversity.” In other words, this was most definitely a woke rewrite, and therefore it should be no surprise that many of the fetishisms of the modern progressive movement were on full display. What might be surprising is how quickly these fetishisms change, leading to some alterations to the original that might be expected given the groups involved, but others that could not have been predicted even a year ago and which seem downright random and weird.
“Cloud-Men” have been unsurprisingly transformed into “Cloud-People,” “queer” becomes “strange,” “midgets” become “ants,” and “ass” gets removed entirely, all in typically politically correct fashion in James and the Giant Peach. Women in general are also something of a protected class, though some of the changes seem odd and an inexplicable, bringing us quickly into the realm of the unexpected. For example, a spider who was a female in the original is now entirely sexless, sort of. “The Spider (who happened to be a female spider) opened her mouth,” is now “The Spider opened her mouth.” In one case “Miss Spider” was turned into an earthworm, and a reference to three girls who couldn’t swim was changed. “Nor I! Said Miss Spider. None of us three girls can swim a single stroke” was transformed into “Nor I! Said the Earthworm. None of us three can swim a single stroke.” This war on the vestiges of misogyny apparently continued into any term that might be used to negatively describe a woman. A “screeching” voice is now an “annoying voice,” “two ghastly hags” are “two ghastly aunts.” Blushing is apparently no longer allowed, and “The Ladybird answered modestly, blushing all over,” is simply “answered modestly.” Similar changes were made to The Witches, where a 2001 edition read, “A witch is always a woman. I do not wish to speak badly about women. Most women are lovely. But the fact remains that all witches are women. There is no such thing as a male witch.” This reads simply, “A witch is always a woman. There is no such thing as a male witch.” A “great flock of ladies” also became a “great group of ladies.” Similarly, there is a strange aversion to the use of male descriptors. “Slowly and painfully disentangle himself from everyone else,” turned into “themselves.” “Here we go, boys!” is “Here we go, folks!” “About twice the height of ordinary men,” is now “ordinary people” in James and the Giant Peach.
The war on fat shaming is also in full effect, and any reference to Aunty Sponge being fat has been excised. She remains “large,” but otherwise where once she was “fat and pulpy as a jellyfish,” she’s now simply “pulpy as a jellyfish.” Sometimes, these changes are significant and affect the meaning of the work. For example, “Aunt Sponge was terrifically fat. And tremendously flabby at that. Her tummy and waist Were soggy as paste. It was worst on the place where she sat,” has been completely written and is unrecognizable as, “Aunt Sponge was a nasty old brute. And deserved to be squashed by the fruit! We all felt a big bump When we dropped with a thump.” Oddly, these changes included removing references to “thin.” Aunt Spiker used to be “thin as a wire, And dry as a bone, only drier.” Now, she is “much the same” as Aunt Sponge, and “deserves half the blame.” Nor is fat shaming the only target, there appears to be something of a war on anything that alludes to a mental health issue, or suggests poor mental health. Hence, “That crazy Glow-worm” is now “That silly Glow-worm,” “Let go, you idiot!” is “Let go, you clown!” “The boy’s crazy” was simply removed. “They must be absolutely mad! The Centipede said,” is reduced to “What are they doing?!” Instead of yelling “Idiots!” He yelled “Oi!” This prohibition apparently applies to inanimate objects as well, a “monstrous crazy arch” is just a “monstrous arch.” There also appears to be an aversion to physical disabilities. The blind Earthworm originally said “There’s no need to rub it in,” but now merely says he is blind. Other odd choices are also seemingly inexplicable, at least to the average person. The Old-Green-Grasshopper had a “horny” lap, but now it is just a lap. A “couple of hunters who had just shot an elephant” instead “shot their prey.” Originally, “They gaped. They screamed. They started to run,” but these days they just gape and run without screaming.
Nothing, however, strikes me as more bizarre than the refusal to use the word “white” as an adjective. We are all familiar with the progressive need to demonize anything related to white people, whether it be the claim that all of us of European heritage are latent white supremacists who benefit from white privilege, to the aversion to praising anything Western culture has produced, but a war on the use of the word itself is something new entirely to my knowledge. “One of those white flabby faces that looked exactly as though it had been boiled” is now “A face that looked like a great soggy overboiled cabbage.” James no longer “stopped and stared at the speakers, his face white with horror.” He is now “agog with horror.” The meaning and reasoning behind this is hard to discern. I couldn’t find any readily available references to something similar or any scholarly treatises on why the use of the word “white” as an adjective would suddenly become problematic. The closest I came was an article on Very Well Mind, a psychology, mental health and self improvement website, that described “The Color Psychology Characteristics of White,” which noted that white “represents purity or innocence,” but also that it create a “sense of space or add highlights,” could be “cold, bland, and sterile,” or “convey austerity and minimalism.” “Because color meanings vary from one person to the next, the color white can have both positive and negative meanings. Some of the positive meanings that white can convey include cleanliness, freshness, and simplicity. The color white often seems like a blank slate, symbolizing a new beginning or a fresh start. On the negative side, white can seem stark, cold, and isolated. Consider how a large, white, empty room might seem boring, bland, and stark.” They continued to describe how the cultural context is important, and in Western cultures “the color white is often associated with weddings, hospitals, and angels and is often used to convey a sense of purity, cleanliness, and peacefulness,” while in Eastern cultures, “white is symbolically linked to death and sadness. It’s often a color used in funerals and other mourning rituals.” Nothing in the article, however, suggests any woke or progressive political component, just the facts about the meaning of the color, making it impossible to say why a face can no longer be “white with horror” or “white” and flabby.
This does not make it any less disconcerting. Clearly, Inclusive Minds has decided that the word itself needs to be removed from the lexicon for whatever reason, and that is not likely to end well. What starts out innocently enough to reduce casual sexism and racism in our culture, quickly becomes a crusade. The political correctness of the 1990’s is the fully woke, cancel-, and microaggression-obsessed culture of today. Crusades need new enemies to fight and ground to conquer, so campaigns against truly offensive language like the N-word are replaced with battles against much more innocuous terms, the same way striving for racial equality has transformed into a war against white people in general. Language is one front in this war, but perhaps one of the most insidious and disheartening. Removing words from a language, even potentially controversial ones, reduces the richness of it, limiting all of our ability to communicate our ideas and emotions. Whatever your political persuasion, a “screeching” voice is not the same as an “annoying” one. The word screech conveys a sense of the sound emitted, carrying an auditory element that annoy does not. Likewise, “hag” carries a visual connotation that “aunt” does not. Shooting an “elephant” is not the same as the general “prey.” Gaping and screaming and running is materially different than simply gaping and running. A “horny lap” is much more dramatic than merely a lap. Blushing is distinct from simply answering modestly, a person being an ass isn’t one who is merely silly. These young minds will not only be protected from the potentially controversial language of the past, they will also experience a diminished creative world, one less descriptive and less visceral, less immediate and less impactful. George Orwell described a world where words and history are being constantly rewritten in his classic, 1984. “Every record has been destroyed or falsified, every book has been rewritten, every picture has been repainted, every statue and street and building has been renamed, every date has been altered. And that process is continuing day by day and minute by minute. History has stopped.” There’s a key difference between his nightmarish vision and our own world: In 1984, the state performed all these troubling actions without the will of the people, largely to protect itself from the will of the people. Today, however, we do it to ourselves of our own free will. Disturbing doesn’t begin to describe it.
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