Roald dahl

Why does the Beano want to cancel itself?

Let’s hear it for the Beano, 85 years old this week. Lucky readers can get a commemorative issue featuring Charles and Camilla, Dua Lipa and Lewis Hamilton. It’s also a chance for those who haven’t read it for decades to register how much it has changed. Lately, the Bash Street Kids welcomed five classmates: Harsha, Mandi, Khadija, Mahira and Stevie Starr. There’s a hijab alongside the stripy shirts and school caps, plus a scientist in a wheelchair. Fatty, the boy who ate all the pies, and Spotty, who had pustules and a long tie, have been renamed Freddy and Scotty to ensure young people who have freckles, weight problems or

Why adults should read children’s books

During a recent family trip to South Africa, there was one book from my holiday reading pile that I simply couldn’t put down. It had everything: suspense, mystery, humour, fantasy, plot twists, heroes, villains and, ultimately, a happy ending. It also contained talking animals, unicorns and fauns. Because this wasn’t the latest bestselling crime or psychological thriller – my usual genres of choice. It was The Lion, The Witch and The Wardrobe, the children’s story by C.S. Lewis that I’d first read almost 40 years earlier. Given that I have a nine-year-old son who adores books, you might imagine that my motivation for re-reading it was to do so aloud to

The Roald Dahl I knew

In May 1962, I was recuperating from a nasty broken leg – the result of a traffic accident in Paris – at my husband’s aunt Margot and uncle Brian’s enchanting cottage about an hour outside of London in Hertfordshire. The Dulantys’ cottage, called The Fisheries, was built in the 1820s in the village of Chorleywood, in a Constable-like setting on the bank of the River Chess. I spent the first couple of days mostly on a sofa in the living room, overlooking the painterly scene, enhanced by Brian’s peacocks. The three pairs strutted around the property, displaying their gorgeous plumage and screeching as if they were the rightful owners. But on

After Dahl: what the sensitivity readers did next

Sensitivity readers have been busy lately, first rewriting the works of Roald Dahl, and then trimming Ian Fleming’s James Bond novels, ostensibly making them less offensive to modern readers. So what will they edit next – and how might they bring it into line with modern mores? Winnie-the-Pooh by A.A. MilneA honey-loving bear goes on a macrobiotic diet, and his best friend Eeyore is prescribed anti-depressants. Christopher Robin receives anti-psychotic medication to alleviate the delusion that animals are talking to him. Othello by William ShakespeareA black military commander is tricked into believing that his wife Desdemona has been unfaithful, so they both enter couples’ counselling, and he undergoes anger management

The rewriting of Roald Dahl is an act of cultural vandalism

The vandals have come for Roald Dahl. His books for children are to be cleansed of their ‘offensive’ content. Sensitivity readers – what we used to call censors – have been employed to pore over his works and expurgate any word or passage that might hurt a kid’s feelings. If you weren’t worried about cancel culture before, surely this egregious assault on some of the best-known children’s books of the modern era, this posthumous purging of an author’s output, will change your mind. Dahl is being well and truly Ministry of Truthed. Puffin essentially tasked the sensitivity readers with morally improving his stories so that no child will ever feel

Roald Dahl, Ted Hughes and the postmodern inquisition

On the third day after his cancellation, Ted Hughes rose again. Having published a spreadsheet listing his possible association with ‘wealth obtained from enslaved people or through colonial violence’, the British Library backed down, making a public apology to his widow and withdrawing ‘unreservedly’ the reference ‘to a distant ancestor’. A natural first response to this decision would be to welcome it as a sensible step, particularly given that the ‘ancestor’ in question had died almost 300 years before his birth, probably lost money on his involvement with the Virginia company, wrote a pamphlet decrying slavery, and, perhaps most importantly, died childless and celibate – raising certain intriguing questions about how the

Roald Dahl was vile, but it would be a pity to cancel him

Where the Chilterns rise over Roald Dahl’s family home, which is now a museum, diggers are at work, tearing up the beech woods that inspired one of his greatest books, Danny the Champion of the World, to clear a path for HS2. In the wider world, however, it is Dahl’s reputation that is being dug into.  Dahl’s family recently issued a quiet apology for infamous anti-Semitic comments he made in interviews in the final years of his life. ‘I’m certainly anti-Israel,’ he said in 1990, eight months before his death, ‘and I’ve become anti-Semitic in as much as that you get a Jewish person in another country like England strongly

Roald Dahl and the limits of cancel culture

Roald Dahl was a proud antisemite but if it’s real courage you’re after, look to his family who, a mere 30 years after his death, have finally acknowledged that the children’s author wasn’t keen on the Jews. The Sunday Times reports that the family ‘recently met for the first time in several years to discuss the problem and published a discreet apology for his racism on his website’. In the statement, buried deep on the official Roald Dahl website, his family ‘deeply apologise for the lasting and understandable hurt caused by some of Roald Dahl’s statements’, though they make no mention of what these ‘prejudiced remarks’ were or to whom