Spanish-Language Editor Refuses to Rewrite Dahl Classics

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After it was revealed on Saturday, Feb. 18, that the British publishing house Puffin Books had edited out of recent editions words that it considered “offensive” (such as “fat” and “ugly”) from the classic children’s books written by best-selling author Roald Dahl, the Spanish-language editor of the works Diego Moreno Zambrana said that he would not support the politically correct literary makeover in their Spanish versions.

Dahl, who wrote such children’s classics as “Charlie and Chocolate Factory,” “James and the Giant Peach” and “Matilda,” was known for his nasty, sometimes even cruel, depictions of some of his characters, but Moreno Zambrana, who works for Nórdica Libros in Madrid, Spain, is fighting back against the rewrites that have already been implemented in the original English-language texts.

“For a publisher, whose raw material is the works as they were conceived by their authors, ensuring the integrity must be the most important thing,” Moreno Zambrana told the Mexican daily Reforma in a telephone interview Tuesday, Feb. 21.

“Maintaining the legacy, disseminating it and above all, ensuring that no one touches a single word without proper permission, is a publisher’s sacred obligation.”

Moreno Zambrana, who said he will not allow the rewrites in the Spanish-language editions of Dahl’s books, added that Puffin had “words and meanings to be changed, even the writer’s own vision, without his consent.”

The controversial edits by Puffin have caused outrage and controvery around the globe, with figures like Salman Rushdie weighing in on the dangers of censorship and British Prime Minister Rishi Sunak criticizing the tweaks as excessive.

Among the alterations included in the new Puffin editons are: the gifted little Matilda now reads Jane Austen instead of Rudyard Kipling; the gluttonous Augustus Gloop is no longer described as fat but as “huge” in “Charlie and the Chocolate Factory,” where the Oompa-Loompas are now gender-neutral, as are the former Cloud-Men of “James and the Giant Peach,” now referred to as Cloud-People.

“This is a very big risk, first, because we are going to lose to a great extent the fun of reading Dahl, who could be a bit nasty in his texts, but was playful, and, above all, was a great writer,” Moreno Zambrano said.

Rather than a pernicious rewriting of the works, Moreno Zambrano suggested that the books be contextualized to explain to children why what could be read as incorrect today was taken for normal at the time.

“For example, we have recently published ‘Tarzan,’ which is a book that in a hundred or so years after its publication may sound strange in some passages because there is a racist part, certainly a misogynistic part at times, but the editor’s job is not to change that,” said Moreno Zambrana.

“Instead, you have to explain, especially to the youngest readers,  what society was like 50 or 100 years ago. Puslishers do not thave the right to change what a person wrote.”

Under Spanish law, he said, there are strict intellectual property laws that do not allow publishers to make editorial changes.

For its part, the publishing house Alfaguara Infantil y Juvenil, which also publishes Spanish editions of Dahl’s books, has announced that it will maintain its Dahl editions with the author’s original texts without modifying its publications in Spanish.

Likewise, France’s Gallimard publishing house, which first published “James and the Giant Peach” in 1966, and “Charlie and the Chocolate Factory” in 1967, has stated that it too will not rewrite the books to appease politically correct evangelists.

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