Tuesday, February 21, 2023

Dahl house

So now there's fuss over changes being made in the texts of Roald Dahl's children's stories, like no longer calling Augustus Gloop "fat."

Leaving aside the appropriateness and consistency of the specific changes, it seems to me that the entire exercise is superficial. Dahl's writing is nasty and brutish (and, by contemporary standards, short), and if he's problematic, that's the problem and one that can't be fixed by changing a few words. I've enjoyed some of his fiction; but on the other hand when I went to a children's bookstore and asked for recommendations for an 8-year-old girl, the clerk suggested some Dahl, and I blanched. I didn't think her parents, culturally conservative folk, would be very happy with that.

But further putting this in ironic context, this isn't the first time the texts of Dahl's books have been changed. I refer you to the information in this article. And I'm not referring to the statement that Charlie Bucket was originally written to be Black - which would make a lot of sense in terms of the story - and was changed at the urging of his agent, who thought a Black hero wouldn't sell. Because that happened before initial publication.

But changing of the text of Charlie and the Chocolate Factory after publication - that's already happened too. Article:
The Oompa Loompas in the original version were black pygmies from Africa. The news in 1970 that there was to be a film of the book drew the attention of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP) to the work and they said the importation of the Oompa Loompas to the factory had overtones of slavery. Dahl insisted there was no racist intent behind the Oompa Loompas but also said he found himself sympathising with the NAACP. As a result, he rewrote them in time for the second US edition as white hippyish dwarves hailing from an invented place, 'Loompaland.'"
I've met people who heatedly deny that the black pygmies version exists. But it does, and I have it. At a tender age I was given as a present the then-new first American edition (Knopf, 1964). Which is still on my shelf. And here's part of what Willy Wonka says about them (p. 73-76):
Pygmies they are! Imported direct from Africa! They belong to a tribe of tiny miniature pygmies known as the Oompa-Loompas. I discovered them myself. I brought them over from Africa myself - the whole tribe of them, three thousand in all. I found them in the very deepest and darkest part of the African jungle where no white man had ever been before. They were living in tree houses. They had to live in tree houses, otherwise, being so small, they would have been gobbled up by every animal in the jungle. They were practically starving to death. ... The one food that they longed for more than any other was the cacao bean. But they couldn't get it.
And so, since Wonka owns a chocolate factory that uses tons of cacao beans, he offers the Oompa-Loompas jobs and all the cacao beans they can eat "(speaking not in English, of course, but in Oompa-Loompish) ... So I shipped them all over here, every man, woman, and child in the Oompa-Loompa tribe. It was easy. I smuggled them over in large packing cases with holes in them, and they all got here safely. ... They love dancing and music. They are always making up songs." Dahl did keep the Oompa-Loompas' moralistic songs, didn't he? I especially like the one denouncing television and complaining about how children used to read, because when more recent get-off-my-lawners have made the same complaint, they seem to think that 1964 was part of the Golden Age they're remembering with misty yearning.

Anyway, you may all shudder at the original Oompa-Loompa text now. That's what I read in 1964, and accordingly that's what made me the twisted person I must be today.

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