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Sunday, February 19, 2023

Is is OK to edit classic texts?

Roald Dahl in 1954 (public domain photo).

I've spent much of the weekend, as part of my duties as a Prometheus Award judge, reading Widowland by C.J. Carey, an alternate world dystopia, set in 1953, which depicts a Britain which has lost World War II and is occupied by the Nazis. (In Carey's version, the 1939 nonaggression pact between Germany and the Soviet Union has continued, and the U.S. apparently never enters the war.) 

The novel's heroine lives in London and her job is to rewrite the texts of books to make them fit better with Nazi ideology. Much of her work involves toning down the outspoken thoughts and behavior of female characters in classic novels such as Pride and Prejudice and Jane Eyre.

Also this weekend, news broke that the publisher of classic children's author Roald Dahl has made hundreds of changes in the original text of his books to bring them in line with modern sensitivities, including eliminating the word "fat." (Dahl died in 1990). 

I will note that the Robert Anton Wilson Trust's publishing arm, Hilaritas Press, has taken a much more conservative approach. Obvious mistakes such as misspelled proper names are corrected, but for instances where the text might seem outdated, the approach taken has been to publish supplementary material, not to rewrite Robert Anton Wilson's words. 


Anonymous said...

Slippery slopes...

Chad said...

My apologies for using the term “thin” skinned. I guess I’m subconsciously a self-loathing skinny person. Please edit my prior comment, before anyone gets hurt, Tom.

Chad said...

The comment I’d made prior to this one ^^^ that didn’t appear to go through, is that the publisher is “okay” to do whatever they please, but that I think it’s beyond thin-skinned, and I don’t understand why an adult can’t explain to a child that Dahl was writing at a time when this language wasn’t taboo. That it is now taboo for some is beyond me, but I understand we all have different sensitivities.