British and American sensitivities were properly offended when, in 1989, Iranian leader Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini issued a fatwa or death sentence against author Salman Rushdie for the religious content of his novel, “The Satanic Verses.” Now, three decades later, British publisher Puffin Books has engaged in a similar, though less pernicious course of action against author Roald Dahl.
Dahl’s sin, as it were, seems to be certain adverbs and adjectives used in his books, including “Charlie and the Chocolate Factory,” that in the woke publisher’s pinched perspective, might offend readers too immature to recognize the now-stricken words are simply descriptors in a work of fiction.
For example, in a news account of this absurdity, the character named Augustus Gloop, has morphed from being “enormously fat” (Dahl’s words) into simply, “enormous” – “enormous” in what sense is left unanswered, but this omission apparently is deemed a worthy price to protect readers from the agony of learning that an individual in a fictional work was very “fat.”
Authors employ words – especially adverbs and adjectives – to impart to the reader what they cannot see except in their mind’s eye, which is after all, the whole point of reading a book, as opposed to watching a film or a television show.
One might, however, worry that in future films of “Charlie and the Chocolate Factory,” Mr. Gloop will be photo-shopped into a more lithe, even perhaps dare I say, “skinny” character, in order to protect viewers being triggered by the sight of an “enormously fat” screen actor or cartoon character.
Where, indeed, will this nonsense end?
Consider, in the same vein as the de-fattening of Mr. Gloop, one of the notable characters in the 1930 mystery novel, “The Maltese Falcon,” later an extremely popular 1941 film starring Humphrey Bogart. The character who comes to mind is Caspar Gutman, a villain to be sure, but even more upsetting for today’s woke police, is the very title given Mr. Gutman: “The Fat Man.”
In the movie, Gutman is played magnificently by a very large actor of British heritage named Sydney Greenstreet; played so well, in fact, that he received an Oscar nomination for best supporting actor.
It is, however, author Dashiell Hammett’s description of Gutman in the novel that would send today’s woke publishers into conniptions. The famed mystery novelist describes The Fat Man as not just “fat,” but “flabbily fat with bulbous pink cheeks and lips and chins and necks, with a great soft egg of a belly that was all his torso, and pendant cones for arms and legs.” According to the author, when Gutman walks, he does so in a manner that conjures “clustered soap-bubbles not yet released from the pipe through which they had been blown.”
It most definitely would lose something were the woke wordsmiths to get ahold of these passages (as well they might) from “The Maltese Falcon,” and render Gutman’s character nothing more than “The Large Man” (which of itself might be deemed too triggering).
One of the late nineteenth century’s most widely read female authors was Louisa May Alcott. Two of her most popular novels, “Little Women” and “Little Men,” described coming of age in the Victorian era. No doubt the woke police will soon chop both book titles down to “Women” and “Men” so as not to offend individuals of either sex who are small in stature.
Can you even imagine the black-line redactions that will accompany the description of the evil Mr. Hyde in Robert Louis Stevenson’s famous novel about Hyde and his personality progenitor, Dr. Jekyll. No longer will readers know Hyde to be “pale and dwarfish” with “deformity” and “malformation,” and sporting a “displeasing smile,” but rather as just another “white man of unusual stature who was slow to smile.” Something – a lot, actually – is lost in the translation from author’s words to non-triggering pablum.
This modern-era excisive wordsmithing began in earnest about a dozen years ago, with censored versions of Mark Twain’s “Huckleberry Finn” replacing original versions in libraries and school reading lists, to shield modern readers from the unpleasant realities of the era in which the characters (and their author) lived.
That slippery slope on which we now are embarked was understood perfectly by George Orwell: to obliterate history by sanitizing it and then to control society.