News of the collected works of Roald Dahl having been edited for sensitivity came to my attention at some point over the weekend. It was impossible to miss on the anglophonic internet.
As culture war stories go, it’s a good one, but it seemed less significant to me than the one that was bobbing around in its wake. As the Telegraph put it: “Some of Britain’s most popular sitcoms and greatest works of literature were flagged as potential signs of far-Right extremism by a counter-terror programme.”
Prevent’s Research Information and Communications Unit (RICU) apparently identified the collected works of William Shakespeare, The Lord of the Rings, Brave New World, works by Joseph Conrad and G.K. Chesterton, and even the old sitcom Yes, Prime Minister as being “key texts” for “white nationalists/supremacists.” Contemporary polemecists like Douglas Murray also raised red flags.
Even George Orwell made the list.
That the birthplace of Magna Carta should have reached a point that its own security apparatus has come to fear Shakespeare, Milton, Chaucer, and some of the twentieth century’s most prominent voices of anti-authoritarianism seemed like pretty big news to me.
I waited for the news to break in Denmark.
It never did.
But the Roald Dahl kerfuffle? You can’t swing a cat-king around in Denmark without hitting at least one story:
Done with “fat” and “ugly” characters: potentially offensive words cut out of beloved children’s books
Mathilde Bugge, DR.dk, February 21
Debate breaks out after offensive formulations are removed from classic children’s books
Jeppe Tholstrup Bach, TV2 News, February 21
He’s world famous for his books. Now “offensive” words are being removed from his works
Mads Bager Ganderup, Berlingske.dk, Feburary 21
Famous author speaks out: “Roald Dahl was no angel, but this is absurd censorship”
Ritzau/Politiken.dk, February 20
Sensitivity readers set to work to save fictional figures from derogatory descriptions
Niels Ivar Larsen, Information.dk, February 21
And so on.
(The “famous author” who spoke about the censorship, by the way, was Salman Rushdie: a man who only narrowly escaped being murdered over words just six months ago.)
I’m sympathetic to the emotions being stirred by the bowdlerization of Roald Dahl and I’m pleased that the Danish reaction seems almost universal in its dissaproval of Gyldendal, the publishing house with the Danish rights to his books, having gone along with the bizarre “sensitivization.”
I also understand that while most Danish adults grew up reading Charlie and the Chocolate Factory, James and the Giant Peach, and Matilda, no Danes have anything to fear from British intelligence for having poked their nose into a little Shakespeare or Orwell. From a purely practical point of view, it’s therefore perfectly reasonable that Danes should find the censorship of Roald Dahl more newsworthy than any creeping authoritarianism in the UK.
But the stories aren’t unrelated. On the contrary, they’re just different fumes emanating from the the same foul and pestilent congregation of vapours that is wokeism.
Think of it: you dump out the contents of your kid’s backpack and out spill copies of Hamlet, 1984, Paradise Lost, Romeo & Juliet, The Canterbury Tales, a book of poems by Tennyson, and a DVD of season one of Yes, Prime Minister.
Are you thinking, Great Scott! Where did I go wrong?
And yet in the UK, and across the west, there’s a large and powerful—and growing—contingent of people so ignorant that they don’t see Shakespeare, Milton, Chaucer, Tennyson, Huxley, Orwell, or Kipling as anything but Evangelists of White Supremacy.
Ask yourself: if someone genuinely believes that reading Julius Caesar or If can radicalize one into becoming a dangerous right-wing extremist, would it be such a leap for them to believe those works should be tidied up a bit, or perhaps even banned?
Similarly, if someone sincerely believes that unbecoming descriptions of unpleasant characters in children’s books need to be purged to prevent offending or upsetting children, how confident are you their concerns will remain confined to kiddie lit?
Of course we want children to be shielded from a lot of life’s ugliness, but just how wounded and damaged are the scores of millions of people who were enthralled by Dahl’s books as children?
In other words, where are the people whose pain these edits are supposed to be relieving?
And where are the jack-booted extremists goose-stepping along the British high streets while reciting the poetry of Tennyson or Chesterton? Where are the terrifying racist hate-mongers peppering their calls for race war with quotes from Shakespeare, Milton, or Chaucer?
Where are the monsters from whom the RICU program is trying so hard to protect the British public?
Same place as all the people who got PTSD from reading Matilda.
Which is hopefully the same place we’ll someday find all these censorious and judgmental wokesters.
It is a sad commentary on the times we live in, that each new story on censorship or someone or something being painted as promoting one of the horrid “-isms” or “-phobias” (take a pick, racism, sexism, transphobia etc. literally ad nauseam) is such a common occurrence that they barely register as something one reacts to with much than a weary sigh.
But this one, the list of authors whose works are being flagged by an official UK counter-terrorist program, was enough to vault my blood pressure into the stratosphere.
Besides the ones you mention, they also included historian Kenneth Clark’s monumental BBC series Civilisation. The mind truly boggles.
I have long held that you could replace several years of elementary and high school education simply by having kids see and discuss the following three:
Kids who go through these will automatically gain a far greater knowledge of how their world came to be like it is, how humans act, and where their civilization came from, than 99% of all high school graduates manage to collect through their entire time in the public school system anywhere.
Oh, and of course J.R.R Tolkien and C.S. Lewis are on the list along with the other luminaries. (one suspects Douglas Murray is rather humbled by being included among such worthies as those, along with the Bard of Avon, Chaucer, Orwell, Conrad, Chesterton and more).
It is in other words, ANY text whatsoever, that might cause a reader/viewer/listener to gain any modicum of admiration for Britain in any way, shape or form, that these orks are taking aim at.
Take any anglophile around the world and ask them why they have an affinity for Britain or England, and whatever products of British science, culture or art they come up with, put it on the list.
Because that is the real crime: Feeling patriotic or believing that Western civilization is on balance a good thing.
Let me close by quoting not an Englishman, but an American, because my feelings about Prevent’s Research Information and Communications Unit are best exemplified by quoting from H.L.Mencken’s Prejudices: First Series:
I best go watch Zulu now, or maybe read something truly subversive: Jeeves and Wooster, while listening to Benjamin Britten.
Fuck these people.
I can only say hallelujah to all that.
But it’s a good thing RICU didn’t consider Matilda or Big Friendly Giant “key texts” for radicalization, or the Danish press might have had to cover the story despite their apparent desire not to.
Good thing for the woke, I suppose. Something like this is bound to convince a lot of normal people (of the kind that just want to get along and live their lives) that wokeness is going too far. Which is probably why Danish media is trying to ignore this. It would not look good. After all, the Queen herself illustrated the Danish edition of Lord of the Rings. It might get awkward.
I did not know that, about Her Majesty having illustrated LOTR, that’s fantastic! (I thought her design work had been limited to theatre.)