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There have been multiple instances in recent years of prominent figures either getting “cancelled,” or surviving attempts to have them cancelled. Children’s authors have been a popular target. This includes Theodor Geisel, or Dr. Seuss, which I wrote about last year.

Who is cancel culture’s newest target? Roald Dahl, the late British author of popular children’s books like James and the Giant Peach, Charlie and the Chocolate Factory, Fantastic Mr Fox and The BFG.

Puffin Books, the children’s imprint of Penguin Books, announced last month it had hired “sensitivity readers” to comb through and adjust the language in Dahl’s books. The Daily Telegraph noted on Feb. 17 that “hundreds of the author’s words” had already been changed. Several examples include:

– The Witches: “Fat little brown mouse” was adjusted to “little brown mouse.” “‘Here’s your little boy,’ she said. ‘He needs to go on a diet,’” was switched to “Here’s your little boy.” “You must be mad, woman!” is now “You must be out of your mind!” “The old hag” became “the old crow.”

– Matilda: Miss Trunchbull’s “great horsey face” becomes her “face.” “Eight nutty little idiots” become “eight nutty little boys.” One character, instead of “turning white,” became “quite pale.”

– James and the Giant Peach: The Cloud-Men have transformed into Cloud-People. Miss Sponge is no longer “the fat one.” Miss Spider’s head is no longer “black.” The Earthworm doesn’t possess “lovely pink” skin any longer, but rather “lovely smooth skin.”

What caused this rewriting fiasco? Dahl has been accused of racism, sexism and anti-Semitism for decades. Since these gaping wounds were largely self-inflicted, he was an easy target for Puffin Books’ sensitivity readers and other would-be critics.

Dahl attacked Israel and Jews in a review of Tony Clifton’s God Cried in the August 1983 issue of The Literary Review. “Never before in the history of man has a race of people switched rapidly from being much pitied victims to barbarous murderers. Never before has a race of people generated so much sympathy around the world and then, in the space of a lifetime, succeeded in turning that sympathy into hatred and revulsion.” He condemned “Jewish financial institutions” and “American Jewish bankers,” and concluded, “Now is the time for the Jews of the world to follow the example of the Germans and become anti-Israeli. But do they have the conscience? And do they, I wonder, have the guts?”

Michael Coren interviewed Dahl for The New Statesman on Aug. 26, 1983. The literary giant didn’t correct the record, and proceeded to make things worse. “This I did not dare to say, but there is a trait in the Jewish character that does provoke animosity, maybe it’s a kind of lack of generosity towards non-Jews,” he told Coren. “I mean Hitler, I mean there’s always a reason why anti-anything crops up anywhere; even a stinker like Hitler didn’t just pick on them for no reason…”

Dahl’s 1990 interview with The Independent was the icing on the multi-layered anti-Semitic cake. “I’m certainly anti-Israeli, and I’ve become anti-Semitic,” he said. “It’s the same old thing: we all know about Jews and the rest of it. There aren’t any non-Jewish publishers anywhere, they control the media – jolly clever thing to do – that’s why the president of the United States has to sell all this stuff to Israel.”

Dahl’s official website attempted to put the controversy to rest in 2020. “The Dahl family and the Roald Dahl Story Company deeply apologise for the lasting and understandable hurt caused by some of Roald Dahl’s statements.” The apology was genuine and heartfelt.

Nevertheless, Puffin Books’ woke warriors saw a golden opportunity to tear apart Dahl’s books and adjust them as they saw fit. It was a selfish, arrogant decision that most individuals and groups hadn’t demanded or asked for.

“Put simply: these may not be the words Dahl wrote,” the Telegraph’s Ed Cumming, Abigail Buchanan, Genevieve Holl-Allen and Benedict Smith noted. “The publishers have given themselves licence to edit the writer as they see fit, chopping, altering and adding where necessary to bring his books in line with contemporary sensibilities.”

I’ll go even further. These aren’t the words that Dahl wrote, and Puffin Books should have defended historical accuracy instead of giving in to “contemporary sensibilities” such as cancel culture and wokeness.

You don’t have to like or agree with Dahl’s controversial views on Jews and Israel, or his equally controversial descriptions of Blacks, women and others, to respect the words, paragraphs and pages he wrote. Releasing a new version that misrepresented his original intent for the stories and characters was irresponsible. Dahl’s magnificent works of children’s literature should have never been tampered with, and his books should be read and studied exactly as they were crafted.

After getting blasted from all corners, including author Salman Rushdie and British Prime Rishi Sunak, Puffin Books reversed course (sort of). They announced on Feb. 24 the impending release of the Roald Dahl Classic Collection to “keep the author’s classic text in print.” This collection will be sold alongside the newly-released books.

If the original titles had been left alone, this wouldn’t have been necessary. That would have required some common sense, which we’ve seemingly lost in modern society.

As a final aside, Ian Fleming Publications said they would follow Puffin Books’ lead and re-release Fleming’s James Bond book series in the same fashion. Even Agent 007 isn’t safe from the cancel culture mob, it seems.

Michael Taube, a long-time newspaper columnist and political commentator, was a speechwriter for former Canadian prime minister Stephen Harper.

The views, opinions and positions expressed by columnists and contributors are the author’s alone. They do not inherently or expressly reflect the views, opinions and/or positions of our publication.

The UC San Diego Foundation recently announced the home of the late children’s author Theodor “Dr. Seuss” Geisel and his wife, Audrey, will be put up for sale.

Someone will be able to purchase “the sun-kissed home on Mount Soledad where [he] gazed at the Pacific and composed most of his beloved series of Dr. Seuss children’s books,” as Gary Robbins and Diane Bell of the San Diego Union-Tribune wrote on June 25. The university received the 5,000 square-foot property from the Geisel Trust in 2019, and the net proceeds will establish an endowment, the Geisel Fund.

If the university has the right to sell the house, so be it. Depending on residential and zoning laws, maybe it will be purchased by someone who builds a museum or gallery dedicated to Geisel’s legacy.

Were this to happen, it would be nice if the previous matter of cancelling Dr. Seuss was put to rest.

Last March, Dr. Seuss Enterprises announced that six Dr. Seuss books would no longer be published: And to Think That I Saw It on Mulberry StreetIf I Ran the ZooMcElligot’s PoolOn Beyond Zebra!Scrambled Eggs Super!, and The Cat’s Quizzer. The organization, in conjunction with a “panel of experts, including educators,” initiated a review of the late author’s catalog. These volumes were found to “portray people in ways that are hurtful and wrong,” as noted in a Mar. 2, 2021 statement, and “ceasing sales of these books is only part of our commitment and our broader plan to ensure Dr. Seuss Enterprises’s catalog represents and supports all communities and families.”

Cancel culture had come for Dr. Seuss, and achieved a partial victory.

Philip Nel, author of Was the Cat in the Hat Black?: The Hidden Racism of Children’s Literature, and the Need for Diverse Books, looked at the Seussian controversy with a distinctly progressive lens.

“Dr. Seuss does both racist and anti-racist work, often at the same period in his career,” the Kansas State University professor wrote in the Washington Post on May 16, 2021. “The 1940s cartoons are both racist against the Japanese and support civil rights for African Americans; the 1950s children’s books include the racist caricature of ‘If I Ran the Zoo,’ but also the anti-discrimination messages of ‘Horton Hears a Who!’ and the first version of ‘The Sneetches.’ Dr. Seuss is recycling racist caricature at the same time he’s striving to oppose racist ways of thinking.”

Nel mentioned this fact “confuses people who think you’re either on Team Racism or you’re on Team Anti-Racism.” In his view, “racism is not an either/or. It’s a both/and. Starting in childhood, we absorb racist images and ideas without our knowledge and without our consent. Dr. Seuss was not aware of how thoroughly his imagination was steeped in a white-supremacist culture.”

Geisel was a product of his time on race, religion and society, but the classification of white supremacism seems pretty far-fetched.

Charles Cohen’s The Seuss, The Whole Seuss, and Nothing But the Seuss (2004) points to Geisel’s work for the Jack-O-Lantern, a college humour magazine that Geisel contributed and edited at Dartmouth College. He “poked fun” at Jews and blacks in some cartoons. One caption entitled “Nice Cohen” had a newly engaged couple “with the prominent proboscises that would be understood to identify them as Jewish.” A second caption portrayed two black boxers, “Highball Thompson” and “Kid Sambo,” in which the former defeated the latter “by a shade.”

That’s certainly insensitive and intolerant, but it doesn’t fit into Nel’s parameters. A liberal Democrat, Geisel’s World War II cartoons opposed anti-semitism and Nazi Germany. He supported civil rights for blacks and minorities. Incendiary comments and images of Asians, Arabs and women gradually disappeared, too.

Three of the banned stories are contained in the collection Your Favorite Seuss.

And to Think That I Saw It on Mulberry Street (1937) has a drawing of an Asian male carrying eating utensils depicted as “A Chinese man who eats with sticks” as well as a “Rajah, with rubies” riding an elephant. McElligot’s Pool (1947), a Caldecott Honor Book, referred to “Some Eskimo Fish From beyond Hudson Bay,” with an Eskimo outside an igloo. If I Ran the Zoo (1950), another Caldecott Honor Book,  includes Asian-like “helpers who all wear their eyes at a slant,” unnamed black tribesmen from “the African island of Yerka” and a Middle Eastern “chieftain” riding a Mulligatawny “From the blistering sands of the Desert of Zind.”

The three stories not contained in this collection are built in a similar fashion. If you weren’t bothered by the ones I described, you likely won’t find the others to be harmful.

Dr. Seuss Enterprises shouldn’t have given in to the woke mob and cancelled some of Dr. Seuss’s finest children’s books. You can still purchase them, but the market price has skyrocketed and availability remains scarce. Many children will likely never read these wonderful stories with their parents, and never discuss why these images were acceptable then but not now.

“You’ll miss the best things if you keep your eyes shut,” Geisel wrote in the appropriately titled I Can Read With My Eyes Shut! (1978). If we let cancel culture win, our children’s eyes will be shut to Dr. Seuss, along with their minds and capacity to learn, think and reason for themselves.

Michael Taube, a long-time newspaper columnist and political commentator, was a speechwriter for former Canadian prime minister Stephen Harper.

The views, opinions and positions expressed by columnists and contributors are the author’s alone. They do not inherently or expressly reflect the views, opinions and/or positions of our publication.