Submitted by _green_cloak_ t3_115wh0b in books

After hearing about Penguin's amendments, my mind thought back to the quote from Orwell's 1984:

>"Every record has been destroyed or falsified, every book rewritten, every picture has been repainted, every statue and street building has been renamed, every date has been altered. And the process is continuing day by day and minute by minute. History has stopped. Nothing exists except an endless present in which the Party is always right."

While I'm not wanting to ignite a discussion specifically about Penguin changing the words of Roald Dahl's books, is it fair to link 'reviews' (i.e. amendments) to books by publishers to 'ensure that it can continue to be enjoyed by all today' to the practices of Orwell's 'Ministry of Truth'?

(Of course the 'Ministry of Truth' is fictitious, and Penguin and other publishers are not guilty of all out Orwellian practices, but personally I can't ignore their similarity in light of the recent events).

EDIT: This post was a question for a reason, and for the record I accept that Orwell's Ministry of Truth from 1984 isn't really that similar to the publisher in question (hence why I posted a question style post in the first place), and I've now learnt what that a better way of describing what I feel irked by is in fact bowdlerisation or expurgation.



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Tall-Display-8219 t1_j93qybp wrote

A private company publishing edited versions of fictional books is not the same as a totalitarian government seeking to alter peoples perception of reality by altering historical documents.

Consider the following: people are not being forced to read the new versions, the old versions are not being banned or outlawed by any government, this is just one publisher, the edits are minor and don't fundamentally change the stories, the books are fictional anyway so never represented the "truth" about anything to begin with.

So no... its not even remotely the same thing.


account312 t1_j93zvhu wrote

Do you think that systematically editing cultural works doesn't affect people's perception of reality?


boxer_dogs_dance t1_j93v60s wrote

Is there another publisher with the rights to publish in 2023 or are originalists limited to used book stores?


Tall-Display-8219 t1_j93w76z wrote

Not entirely sure. A quick Google tells me that Charlie and the Chocolate Factory is published by Scholastic as well. Not done a lot of research into it though so might be wrong on that. I guess you could always look for a publication date before the edits when buying online too


boxer_dogs_dance t1_j93x4zi wrote

There is a whole other thread on this here on r/books. If the Telegraph is correct that they changed Matilda's favorite authors, that is a bridge too far for me. Bowdlerization is looked down on for good reason. It isn't fair to not disclose to fans who may be buying copies of books they loved as gifts for children and relatives.


_green_cloak_ OP t1_j93zjgg wrote

Ahhhh, so what I'm irked by is bowdlerisation. Far out, that helps a lot, and might help me discuss this issue more accurately


Lord0fHats t1_j96dlua wrote

People forget Agatha Christie's And Then There Were None wasn't always called that and went through several title changes well before now. The exact wording of the nursery rhyme has also been rewritten multiple times to go along with the title changes.

Though, if you asked me And Then There Were None is a way more badass title for a book XD


_green_cloak_ OP t1_j93txs8 wrote

Thanks for your thoughts. I guess I'm trying to think of a literary analogy for this, and I'll accept 1984's Ministry of Truth as being a stretch. But still, like I said in the OP, I can't ignore the principle idea of changing words for reasons other than grammar. It doesn't feel right at all.


Bridalhat t1_j96o7ma wrote

And maybe books about bad things that aren’t just Orwell. If everything is 1984 then nothing is.


champdo t1_j93r3h8 wrote

Please sir a crumb of oppression


reddit455 t1_j93plce wrote

not sure I understand...


you're suggesting that this

>destroyed or falsified, every book rewritten, every picture has been repainted, every statue and street building has been renamed, every date has been altered.


is equivalent to this?


Augustus Gloop now ‘enormous’ instead of ‘fat’


it's not false, the book is not rewritten, (a word is being replaced - with a synonym), Augustus is still a "big boy", is still named Agustus... and no dates have changed.


are they vastly different than the version you remember?


Roald Dahl books rewritten to remove language deemed offensive


In The Twits, Mrs Twit is no longer “ugly and beastly” but just “beastly”.


In The Witches, a paragraph explaining that witches are bald beneath their wigs ends with the new line: “There are plenty of other reasons why women might wear wigs and there is certainly nothing wrong with that.”


> but personally I can't ignore their similarity in light of the recent events

i don't put the Ministry of Truth in the same league as using a different word for fat.


Dagwood_Sandwich t1_j9eos7g wrote

Read Orwell’s “Politics and the English Language.”Its about how euphemistic language is used subtly to change historical narratives.

I don’t think this is exactly whats happening in publishing. Thats more capitalism run amok, the invisible hand of the market distorting art to sell children’s books. But still choice of words with specific connotations that have the same basic meaning can be used in subversive ways.


reddit455 t1_j93qfyl wrote

i don't think you appreciate what Orwell probably had in mind.


North Korea has the closest thing to IRL "Ministry of Truth"

this is the kind of truth their ministry provides


Paintings on the walls of the Sinchon Museum of American War Atrocities depict alleged atrocities carried out by American soldiers during the Korean War.


South Korea is often depicted as a place of dangerous racial contamination.[27]

North Korean propaganda often invokes Koreans as the purest of races, with a mystical bond with the natural beauty of the landscape


Romance is often depicted in stories as being triggered solely by the person's model citizenship, as when a beautiful woman is unattractive until a man learns she volunteered to work at a potato farm .[34]


_green_cloak_ OP t1_j93tghv wrote

Fair enough, I guess that's why I was posting this as a question. I accept that a publisher changing some select words is not the same as a totalitarian regime, and so not what Orwell may have had in mind, but then that still leaves the question of the long-term implications of publishers changing things to suit the times. Can you think of a better literary analogy for Penguins 'reviews'?


boxer_dogs_dance t1_j93uzr7 wrote

See the articles linked and discussion on the thread here on r/books. The article in the Telegraph claimed they changed Matilda's favorite author. I think it is worth verifying. If they go too far it is bowdlerization. I'm generally opposed, especially if they don't disclose in the book that changes have been made and what they are.


_green_cloak_ OP t1_j943sqg wrote

Agreed. If they're up-front instead of vague about whether a particular edition has been changed, I wouldn't mind as much. That aside, the mere concept of bowdlerisation seems like a pertinent issue right now, similar to when the term was first coined.


OisforOwesome t1_j954ytk wrote

People who quote Orwell really need to actually read more Orwell, and not just the bits they think agree with them.


pollyfossil t1_j95phhy wrote

There's an important context that hasn't been mentioned in this thread so far, which is that Dahl's books are for children. Adults play a huge role in selecting what books children read (teachers, librarians, parents) and if I were a school librarian, although I might not drop Dahl from a library because of his quite cruel fatphobia, for example, it would give me some concern. If I were a parent I'd probably raise it as an issue to discuss with a child reading the book. There is a possibility that if these relatively small changes weren't made, then some people might choose not to stock Dahl's books, or to recommend them to kids. In this context, it's in the publisher's interest to make the changes because they reflect a change in general attitudes about certain things, especially when it comes to books aimed at children. The alternative would potentially be Dahl gradually falling out of favour and being read far less widely.


noctisfromtheabyss t1_j96i2cv wrote

Interesting how we assume our contemporary standards for what is acceptable for a child to read, in terms of maturity,, to be superior to past generations. When I look at the rates of anxiety and depression and the general malaise many adults are feeling now dealing with adulthood, I don't think we should be so arrogant to assume we got it right now.


pollyfossil t1_j96u3jb wrote

I'd see it just a pragmatic response from the publisher to changing social attitudes. Personally, I don't think it's cool to use fatness for example as a short hand for laziness, greed or stupidity and I might not choose to give books to kids that do make that association. I think that the rates of depression and anxiety among young adults have a lot more to do with climate collapse and economic conditions that are making it increasingly difficult to aspire towards independence (e.g. getting a job that enables you to pay for your own place to live) than with a culture that emphasizes inclusion and diversity.


noctisfromtheabyss t1_j96ux6v wrote

A world in which censorship is viewed as pragmatic is a frightening world indeed.

And I am living in the same world as young people with the same economic conditions from a poor family and no college degree and yet I feel far more suited to dealing with this Hellscape than many of my contemporaries. I reckon that has to do with my mom raising me with my head not in the sand to the horrors of the world around me.


pollyfossil t1_j96zcvs wrote

I can't see myself why reading books that make fun of fat people or bald people is vital to the psychological formation of the young. There are much more important things to concern ourselves with, both in terms of "censorship" (how about the banning of books in schools that include LGBTQ characters and themes, for example?) and in terms of making the world a less awful place for future generations.


noctisfromtheabyss t1_j9702ve wrote

Because it robs them of the opportunity to see how norms have changed, and explanation of why it changed and why that language is unacceptable today. Which in my opinion builds a far better and informed citizen than those who simply do because they are told its wrong with no deeper understanding of why its wrong. Might even get so bad people start justifying book censorship...


pollyfossil t1_j973z3d wrote

I teach literature to college students that was published 100s of years ago, so I'm very familiar with the fact that norms constantly change and that reading literature that reflects different worldviews and different mentalities is enriching and intellectually challenging. I'm also aware of the fact that texts go through multiple editions for different reasons and we need access to all of those editions in order to understand them fully from a scholarly perspective. The changes that are being made to these Dahl editions are being made with the permission of the copyright holder, so that's their decision - it's not been made by a committee of the politically correct. It's therefore more accurately described as revision, rather than censorship. It may well be of interest to future researchers on children's literature, but I don't understand why it's been seen as indicative of the downfall of civilization.


noctisfromtheabyss t1_j974r42 wrote

Did the author approve of these changes? Was this revision made to better reflect the authors intentions or was it made to censor words and phrases that the publisher things will make people on twitter angry and thus reduce sales?

Its actually frightening that you teach literature and youre ok with an artist work being changed without their permission/consent and that your justifying altering said work for profit motive.


pollyfossil t1_j97bu83 wrote

He's been dead since 1990. If you're so exercised about his work being changed, you'd want to take that up with his literary estate, which has approved these changes (quite possibly in the interests of profit).


noctisfromtheabyss t1_j97dgeu wrote

I've always wondered, do you spice up the boots with like a dry rub or sauce or do you just raw dog it when licking?


pollyfossil t1_j97mtpd wrote

Ooh, what a stinging put down! I'm not sure I'll ever get over it.


Dagwood_Sandwich t1_j9epd0e wrote

Theres also the point that Dahl himself reedited some of his works after initial publications to correct his own potentially offensive missteps. The oompa loompas were originally African pygmies for example. Its interesting to think what he would think if he were alive. Of course he’s not so we cant ask him.

There are subtleties here. His words aren’t sacred. If he’d included a few words that we now consider really offensive slurs but weren’t at the time, I think most people would be okay with publishers removing them. Its really the specifics that seem overreaching and somewhat arbitrary.

Its also the issue of passing off these changes however slight as his work. Publish a totally new reimagined version if you want recontextualize, adapt, etc. but call it something new.


noctisfromtheabyss t1_j96hhxx wrote

What I find interesting to everyone saying it's not the same as a totalitarian nation state, which of course it isn't, but begs the question, how do you think we end up with a totalitarian nation state? I'd argue accepting blatant re-writing works of art, not to mention that your favorite search engine gives different information depending on what region you live in, is a step in that direction. Whats that old saying, those who don't learn from history being doomed to repeat it...


jackofslayers t1_j962ivg wrote

No. This is in my mind equally fucked up, but it is not what 1984 is talking about.

Big difference between the government rewriting history and a private company.

Again, I am fully disgusted with Puffin, but the impact and consequences are less than if this was done by the UK government.


Plucky_Parasocialite t1_j96gn6c wrote

Nah. I've seen enough "creative translations" which were basically complete rewrites (mostly end of 19ct to about the 50s) and it's really not that deep.

Besides, publishers are independent companies looking out for their bottom line. That's comically incomparable to a government agency supporting an authoritarian regime.


Icaruswept t1_j9f9m4m wrote

Coming from a country well known from dictators running totalitarian regimes with dedicated information control ops:

A private company is not a government.

See Hirshman: Exit, Voice and Loyalty.


BlatchfordS t1_j974zxp wrote

I'm reminded of the following Hemingway anecdote:

JOHN HALL WHEELOCK: "At a meeting in his office, Mr. Scribner said that he did not care to have his imprint on the book [The Sun Also Rises]. There was a long silence. Max Perkins could be very silent and not feel that he had to talk, not even to relieve embarrassment. Max was standing. Mr Scribner, who was seated at his desk, looked up at him and said: `Max, you haven't said anything. I'm turning the book down. Haven't you got something you'd like to say?' Max finally said, `Yes, I'd like to say this: That if we are going to turn down such a talent we might as well go out off the publishing business. We cannot got on publishing Richard Harding Davis, Thomas Nelson Page, George Cable, Henry Van Dyke, and other worthies. If we're going to be publishers, we have to move along with the talents of the time even though they might offend...well, even though they might offend our kind of taste.' Finally Mr. Scribner asked Max: `Will Hemingway change some of the four-letter words? Take them out?' Max said, `Yes, he will take some of them out, I'm quite sure.' `Which words will he take out?' said Mr. Scribner. Whereupon Max hastened to his office, got a piece of paper, came back and wrote down the words. Mr. Scribner looked at him (he had a very mischievous sense of humor) and he said: `Max—if Ernest knew that you couldn't say those words, that you had to write them down, he'd disown you!'" — From George Plimpton's The Writer's Chapbook


Ed_Buck t1_j93tux4 wrote

Those damn conservatives are burning books again


jackofslayers t1_j962oa7 wrote

This time it is liberals but hard to tell the difference in this case.


noctisfromtheabyss t1_j96i518 wrote

Its generally hard to tell the difference on the global issues like controlling your populace.


Bonezone420 t1_j9556wm wrote

It's going to blow your mind to find out we rename entire countries IRL isn't it?

The originals of the books still exist, previous editions exist, they've been edited before and likely will be edited again. This happens on a daily basis, and not just with books. We re-write and redesign maps all the time, a city can change whatever it wants pretty much whenever it wants.

I assure you, and anyone else worried about this, that it's not Roald Dahl and other precious classic authors that the big scary censorship monster would really come for. Historically, authoritarian censorship has been used to target political enemies, easily evidenced by the famous book burnings engaged in by the nazis which started with research and educational materials about sexual health and understanding - especially pertaining to LGBT+ people, who were unfortunate targets of the holocaust as well - which set back our understanding of that for decades to come.

Charlie's chocolate factory will be fine, no one's going to purge it from the earth, and without a doubt the publishing company will either recant this soon enough - or else take the bold route of printing an uncut edition in a few years to make more money off of people who want to feel like they achieved a victory over them.