26 February 2023 436 Views

That Dahl Debate. In perspective.

by James Murphy

Ok, so. A publisher. That’s right. As in someone, entrusted with actual BOOKS. Tried censoring the work of ROALD DAHL. 

Now. The controversy has spoken for itself, if that’s possible? I cannot add much to the process.  But I will say a few things, anyway.


Remember. If worried that we are teetering into Orwell country? No. We are NOT. This move into censoring Dahl has been opposed far more than embraced. That includes, by Government. A consequent U-Turn by publishers is imminent at time of writing.

Nobody ‘in power’ is asking for this, commissioning the process or endorsing the ideological implications of reverse engineering a dead author’s work?  

Is anyone knocking at your door and confiscating Dahl books? No. So please, avoid panic. On the other hand, if one does not act, now, then yes, complacency today could indeed give us book burning, tomorrow.


I suspect the motivations here were commercial rather than even misguidedly pastoral? As in: at best case, they welcome in the WOKE generation to read Roald Dahl.

At worst? They enrage the old guard so much that new batches of the untainted original texts also get a run at the press. Either coincidence from inept stupidity or incredibly clever, shrewd, Machiavellian stealth marketing. 


I have seen some berate Dahl whilst championing free speech and loathing the censorship of his work. Their main gripe appears an antisemitic bent underlying his wording on occasion. Fine.

Same can be said of Shakespeare, Dickens and any number of writers???

But those critics ought therefore, imho, be far more proactive, therefore, in say a prosecution of a mediocrity like Jeremy Clarkson, who, despite all his best efforts, remains uncancelled and therefore, save a few awkward weeks, unpunished. Seriously.

Living media and its influence and legacy are just as important as anything in print from a now dead author. Dahl was a product of an age in which people were matter of fact about race. Clarkson would like to think he is of that ilk, but isn’t.

As for Dahl being racist? No. I won’t buy it. And in any event, he was willing to die to take down the ultimate iteration of race driven hatred and evil (Nazis). 


Roald Dahl, much like Ian Fleming (they were friends, exchanged ideas and helped out on mutual writer’s block on occasion) never claimed to be a ‘nice’ man or write blandly palatable stories. Bad literary lads, on side of greater utility good, perhaps? 

Their work was all about confrontation and containment of evil at its most macabre. Wrapped in an adult pulp fairy-tale packages; yet nonetheless moral, once the reader pierced the facade of sinister subversion.

That is part of our primal struggle, from the day we are born, until death and is a vital tool in both growth and survival. Storytelling helps educate children about real world dangers, via the lure and comfort of fantasy. 

‘Same is true, for so-called ‘grown-ups’; as they enjoy a solid thriller or roller-coaster ride at a park and so on.

Indeed, even the animal kingdom uses similar tactics and strategy. I once saw footage of young Orangutans, being schooled on the dangers of snakes. The initial impetus is for babies to play with the little squiggly thing on the ground. An adult scream alerts the young to the innate and mortal dangers which lie in failing to see the grotesque predator in the grass.

THAT, in a way, is the same skill as story-telling. Extreme exposure, to very real threats, dressed up, in the language of literature and lore. Water that down? And bigger bads emerge to consume you. 


The truly insidious danger in politically correct doctoring of language is that it harms and hurts rather than heals or helps compassionate communication.

Basic descriptions are elongated, rather than simplified. People start tripping over their words, rather than relishing the oxygen of free speech.

In turn, both extreme left and right wings regroup. The disenfranchised speaker sees refuge in the despotic dictator; while leftist counterpart cement middle managerial hierarchies whereby everyone is classified yet nobody is truly individual.

THAT is the danger inherent in censoring Dahl or indeed, any writer. Words have lives of their own. The so called ‘kinder’ take on ‘fat’ or any other term, ironically, can be far crueller. Because it forces one to dwell on, rather than evade and triumph over being defined by what might be at worst a playful nudge and at best, a roughly short hand adjectival call-sign. 

IE: By taking down Dahl? You create the next generation of the very villainies he was dedicated to opposing.

Now, his work is not great literature, by any means. Indeed, much of it is pulpy, adolescent and very silly indeed. And that’s just the so called ‘adult’ short stories/novels (My Uncle Oswald).

That does not change the fact that, by attempting to tinker with his works, you awaken the sleeping (big, friendly) giant of their alliterative, imaginative, aesthetic and moral joys. Shutting down free speech cannot quell the power of free THOUGHT. 

And I suspect Mr Dahl is up there, somewhere, looking down and laughing at that delicious irony. An unexpected twist, indeed. Extensive media talk about = renewed drive for purchase of, his work.  He lived happily, ever after, through his books. The End?


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