Addressing Dahl

The problems rereading a childhood favourite

Leo Cookman

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In 2022, for various reasons, I wanted to reread Roald Dahl’s catalogue of children’s books that I had been so obsessed with as a kid. It was Dahl’s stories that got me into reading as a young boy and ultimately made me want to write my own. I started writing at 6 years old and never stopped. So in December 2022 I found a boxset of all Dahl’s children’s books for a ludicrously low price and bought it, looking forward to diving back into my childhood. As I began my reread it became clear that not only did I still love these stories but they all still hold up remarkably well. There was a lot worth talking about in these stories and rediscovering my love for the books was something I wanted to share.

And then 2023 became ‘The year of Roald Dahl’…

As the months went by and I read more of his books, falling more and more in love with the stories, so too did Roald Dahl’s name continue to appear in the headlines. As a result, contextually, any discussion of Dahl right now must come with some enormous caveats and all praise must be qualified. As such, I am writing this article as a prelude to the article I actually want to write about how much I love those books.

In this piece I just want to confront all of the current discussion surrounding Roald Dahl, that would otherwise clog up an article focussing on talking about those children’s stories. Think of this as ‘part one’ with a second, cheerier, one soon to follow. So let’s tackle each of these topics head on.

The Edits

In February of 2023 it was (hysterically) reported in the right wing press that Puffin Books would be making some edits to Dahl’s children’s books to essentially correct some language that today is not very tasteful or simply seens as unkind. The resultant ‘outrage’ about this, from all corners, was deeply depressing to witness, not least because — especially right now — it doesn’t bloody matter, but also it’s the kind of manufactured outrage that the right wing press/media love. It sells copies, gets clicks and is easy to maintain. It’s also bullshit.

Ultimately a few words changed here and there would do nothing to break these stories, only make them less clangorously out of touch with today’s readers…

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Leo Cookman

Peripatetic Writer. “Time’s Lie” out now from Zero Books.