Kiss Kiss

Image: © Davy D Writer

‘Freedom is the freedom to say that two plus two make four. If that is granted, all else follows.’

George Orwell

Kiss, Kiss, is the title of a Roald Dahl collection of short stories, first published in 1959. As well as being known for his children’s tales, Dahl was also a prolific writer of short stories for adults. Kiss, Kiss, is my favourite of his adult compilations, described as stylish, macabre, and haunting, leaving the reader with a delicious feeling of unease. I have delved back into the book this week after the author made headline news here in the UK.

The Roald Dahl Story Company, and publishers, Puffin Books, have decided to rewrite all of Dahl’s children’s stories. Their aim is to make them more accessible and protect children from some of the vocabulary Dahl used at the time the books were written.

The word, fat, has been removed from all books. Augustus Gloop, in Charlie and the Chocolate Factory, is no longer fat, he is now enormous. The Cloud Men in James and the Giant Peach have turned into Cloud People. References to Rudyard Kipling and Joseph Conrad have been deleted from Matilda. Mrs. Twit, in The Twits, is no longer ugly, and beastly, just beastly.

These editorial decisions have been cited as censorship in some quarters. A fierce debate, around how literature and works of fiction are preserved in their original form and not airbrushed, is ongoing.

Censorship in Literature

The censorship of books is not a new phenomenon. Consider the following:

Twelfth Night (1601) William Shakespeare

Ulysses (1922) James Joyce

Brave New World (1932) Aldous Huxley

The Catcher in the Rye (1951) J.D. Salinger

To Kill A Mockingbird (1960) Harper Lee

Bridge to Terabithia (1977) Katherine Paterson

All have been banned or censored, at some stage, in their published history. In 1944, George Orwell’s essay, Benefit of Clergy (Orwell’s views on Salvador Dali), intended for The Saturday Book, an annual miscellany of art and literary life in Britain, was suppressed on grounds of obscenity. Although, the essay is nowhere to be found in the publication, Benefit of Clergy is still listed in the content section.  

Are Dahl’s Words Unsafe for Children?

I have seen first-hand the impact Dahl’s stories have had on the younger generation. His book, Stories and Verses for Children, became a nightly read for my daughter growing up. The Roald Dahl Museum in Great Missenden, Buckinghamshire, was a regular family day out during summer school holidays. We sat in the same chair where Dahl crafted his classical tales.

Anyone who believes children need protection from the language Dahl used should visit the museum. There, they will see hordes of children mesmerised during Dahl story telling sessions. They could join in with the same children bouncing on the BFG’s (Big Friendly Giant) footprints which guide people from the museum, through the streets of Great Missenden, to his burial place in the cemetery of St. Peter and St. Paul’s Church.

This whole episode has left me biffsquiggled and crodsquinkled. So much so, I have gone out and bought a collection of sixteen of his children’s stories, in the words he wrote them. They are looking down at me from one of the shelves in my library. I am not quite sure whether the collection looks fat, or enormous, squeezed into the limited space. Perhaps they are just wide for their height.

What are your thoughts on the censorship of literature? Do you think the writers and publishers, involved in rewriting Dahl’s classic children’s tales, are doing the right thing? I would like to read your views.

Have a flavory-savory weekend.

24 thoughts on “Kiss Kiss

  1. It’s a hard call. Canceling Dr Seuss and Huckleberry Finn doesn’t seem like the appropriate response, but I’ve never heard anyone push back on the elimination of Little Black Sambo. This of course bumps up against cancel culture in all of it’s manifestations. Personally, in most situations I’d like to see the ‘art’ left alone but include an opening statement (disclaimer?) giving some cultural insight as to why something may seem offensive today that was apparently OK 70 years ago. A children’s book is a perfect place to do this.

    1. I agree, Jeff. In this case, I think it is lazy from the publishers to just delete what they thought might be offensive. Who determines whether fat is more offensive than enormous, or vice-versa? I like your idea of some form of disclaimer. These things should be left in their original forms as they provide a social history of the time. If we just keep cancelling things, what do we have to push back on. Just after posting this I read the publishers have decided to release all his work in their original form, alongside the more modern altered versions. This after our Prime Minister and Queen Consort had raised concerns. Thanks for your thoughts.

      1. And of course it may all have been a ploy to get people like you to go out and buy all of his works. I can’t help but cynically go that direction. Seems we’re constantly being played by the marketing departments.

      2. The thought did cross my mind, Geoff. I have always wanted to own his children collection and I got them at a bargain price. So maybe there’s a small win in there somewhere. 😎

  2. Wow, you bring up some great points Davy. I agree with Jeff about the elimination of “little black sambo” but I get squeamish about changing the intent of the author. As you point out, the publisher would be wise to see how kids are drawn to Dahl’s work. I remember reading Mark Twain as a kid and actually thinking about the word choices he used, that didn’t take away from my love of his work. I was able, even at a young age, to see how we’ve matured and grown as a society. When we censor, we take away the reader’s chance to learn and decide for themselves. Plus how could I not love a post that manages to use biffsquiggled and crodsquinkled! Gotta love it. I do have one confession to make. I haven’t read a ton of Dahl, at least not his adult short stories. My error! Any suggestions of what to read first?

    1. His collections called, Tales of the Unexpected and More Tales of the Unexpected are excellent, Brian. They made a television series of them over here in the UK. Kiss Kiss is one of my favourite collections. I like your point about censorship taking away choice. As we grow with these literary works we can always measure how our attitudes change with the times. As I commented to Jeff, deleting and changing these works appears a lazy way of doing things. They should be left as something to debate and allow us to grow as a society. I appreciate your thoughts, Brian.

  3. Interesting question, Davy. My mind is all over the place with this one. I do think censorship is a bad thing. It’s wrong to control words.

    1. I agree, Brenda, it should be down to the reader to make their own decisions. I would imagine this area is a minefield in your line of work. If we continue to cancel or alter literature, which makes us feel uncomfortable, where do students go to find material to build their skills around critical thinking, debating etc.

  4. I’m feeling biffsquiggled by all of this. A little saltiness in children’s books gives grit, I say. And it’s a style thing. Life is full of the dark and daunting…I see no harm…but the encroachment to rewrite – evidently with the family’s blessings? Sigh. Just sigh. 😞

    1. I never thought about his family in this, Victoria, as I would imagine they still hold the rights to his work. If we begin to meddle with the words of writers where does creativity go? What would a world be like if we could not be biffsquiggled? Thank you for your thoughts and have a good weekend.

      1. You as well, Davy! And I just saw a BBC article in my newsfeed…maybe there’s some softening occurring? Continuing to print the originals? I’ll need to do more than skim the headline but I liked the sound of retreating a little if that’s what’s up. 😉

      2. Some definite softening, Victoria. The UK Prime Minister and Queen Consort were some of the people who expressed concerns about this. A compromise all round perhaps?

  5. All I see the censors doing is erasing a little bit of history by changing those words. They should leave well alone and allow people to have the choice of whether to buy the books or not. By taking our choices away, they are taking away freedom. I don’t like hearing lots of swearing in movies, so I’ll turn the movie off rather than expect someone to dub over the swear words and rerelease the movie again.
    I say these those books alone, Davy.

    1. That is true, Hugh. We all have the ability to use our own filters to determine what we do or do not read, watch, or listen to. The publishers appear to have backed down and are now publishing the books in edited and unedited forms. All part of the cancel culture we know seem to be living in. Thanks for your thoughts and enjoy your Sunday.

  6. Biffsquiggled and crodsquinkled – what great words. I love Roald Dahl and you’ve written about this “modernization” beautifully, Davy! It’d be interesting to know what he’d think if this was the editing process on the way to releasing a new edition. Seems he might be okay with making the language more accessible (or not) but it’s the doing it after he’s gone that seems wrong. Hmmm.

    1. Thank you, Wynne. I think it comes down to writing in the age we live. I am sure that Dahl would have adapted his words if he was writing for children today. The changes still feel like an attempt to change a piece of history. Offering an alternative alongside the original texts does give people a choice. Whatever we think, you can’t argue with the great words and stories he left us. Have a good Sunday.

  7. Please leave literature alone. In fact, any art form must retain its original intent and spirit. My daughter loved (and still does) Roald Dahl’s books. She had most of them while growing up. I believe there are so many other issues and situations that need to be sensitized. I think some people have more free time on their hands than they know how to utilize. “Perhaps they are just wide for their height.” – Love this! Haha!
    Take care and thanks for writing about this. 🙂

    1. You are right, Terveen, there are more important issues in the world that need to be sensitized. It is nice to hear that there are other parents out there who shared the brilliance of Roald Dahl with their children. Thanks for sharing your thoughts and have a good Sunday.

    1. A great book, Alicia. There was a film made of the book and it is on my long list of ‘still to watch.’ I am enjoying revisiting some of Dahl’s classic children’s stories.

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