UK’s Badenoch slams ‘problematic’ rewrites of classic Roald Dahl books

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LONDON — British Cabinet minister Kemi Badenoch hit out at the “problematic” move to strip contentious words from books by classic children’s author Roald Dahl.

Dahl’s estate and publisher have been at the center of a row this week after updating his works to be more suitable for modern audiences.

New edits include the removal of any reference to “Charlie and the Chocolate Factory”‘s Oompa-Loompas as “small men” — now “small people” — and the removal of the word “fat” from every book. The Roald Dahl Story Company has said any updates to the late author’s work were “small and carefully considered,” but it’s triggered a backlash from cultural figures, including author Salmon Rushdie and actor Brian Cox.

But Badenoch — who serves as business secretary and equalities minister and has previously intervened on a host of so-called culture wars issues — urged publishers to focus on “new books” instead of altering older titles.

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“I think it’s sad because it … doesn’t show the transition that’s happened,” Badenoch said at a POLITICO event in London. “If you change everything old to look new, then people don’t know what things used to be like, which means that you lose the institutional memory, you lose the collective memory. I think it’s an odd thing for publishers to do.”

And she added: “If you don’t like old books, publish new books. There are loads of people who have new content that can be looked at if you think something else is problematic. But changing the words that someone wrote, I don’t think is right.”

Her intervention comes after her boss, Rishi Sunak, criticized the changes through a spokesperson.

“When it comes to our rich and varied literary heritage the prime minister agrees with the BFG that we shouldn’t gobblefunk around with words, ” the spokesperson said, using a word Dahl invented for playing around with language.

“It is important that works of literature, works of fiction, are preserved and not airbrushed,” they added.