Literature Lecturer Comments on Roald Dahl Censorship in The Weekend Australian
Campion Literature Lecturer and Director of the College’s Centre for the Study of the Western Tradition, Dr Stephen McInerney, has been featured in today’s edition of The Weekend Australian.
In the article, Dr McInerney comments on the power of literature to change us and how a fear of this change “can lead in turn to an equally frightening impulse to ban, banish or (in extreme cases) destroy the literature that arouses it.”
Citing the censorship of Shakespeare’s King Lear between 1681 and 1838, Dr McInerney notes:
“Debates about cancelling or rewriting books are therefore nothing new, nor is it a new thing to alter famous works, often in dramatic ways, to make them more palatable to a new generation and to satisfy the expectations of a governing world view, whether Christian, capitalist, communist or whatever.”
He then demonstrates how editing works of literature to appease contemporary tastes can come at great cost, with sanitised versions of children’s fairy tales robbing children of “one of their main ways of absorbing and coming to terms with the darker and more difficult realities of life” and the censorship of racial slurs in Mark Twain’s Huckleberry Finn ultimately diminishing the truth of the pervasive racism of the period and the realities of those in past eras.
“The same can be said about the changes made to Charlie and the Chocolate Factory, The Witches and other works by Roald Dahl.
In an effort to be sensitive to contemporary tastes (and the sensitivities of bald women, overweight people, short people, and many others) Dahl’s newest editors are showing incredible insensitivity to a much larger class of people whose thoughts, beliefs, insights and – yes – failings we ignore at our peril: the generations who have gone before us. And by doing so they are betraying the generations to come.”