I have followed with fascination the uproar around the revised versions of Roald Dahl’s books. NPR has a great summary of what has happened. They write:

New editions of legendary works by British author Roald Dahl are being edited to remove words that could be deemed offensive to some readers, according to the late writer’s company….

British newspaper The Telegraph first reported that the publisher of Dahl’s books, Puffin, made hundreds of changes to original texts of the author’s well-known children’s books.

The character Augustus Gloop in Charlie and the Chocolate Factory is no longer called “fat.” Instead he is described as “enormous,” The Telegraph reports.

Instead of being called “small men,” Oompa-Loompas are now “small people,” the article says.

Further, the changes to these books include adding language not originally written by Dahl. In his 1983 book The Witches, he writes that witches are bald beneath their wigs. According to The Telegraph, an added line in new editions says, “There are plenty of other reasons why women might wear wigs and there is certainly nothing wrong with that.”

Puffin and The Roald Dahl Story Company, which manages the copyrights of Dahl’s books and works with publishers, didn’t respond to NPR’s requests for comment.

I confess that I, overall, am NOT a fan of rewriting earlier works to reflect modern standards. That said, the whole fracas got me thinking about whether or not there are phrases in romance that I’d rewrite. One thing that–perhaps–makes sense is adding footnotes that explicate a foreign or–OK–offensive phrase.

For example, I’m currently reading Kelley Armstrong’s Bitten. Early on, a character suggests that the heroine, Elena, use 411 and she protests that she doesn’t want to incur the charge. I was very sleepy when I read this and it took me a moment to remember what they were talking about and my bet is many who read this book will have no idea! A footnote–e-books would make this easy–might help a younger reader make sense of this now archaic concept. I’ve just read an upcoming women’s fiction novel in which the author references Sherry Thomas, The Napping House, and Cersei, just to name a few. I can envision someone from another time or culture having no idea what these references mean. Footnotes might be just the thing.

What do you think? Should older books be rewritten to reflect our values? Our culture?

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