“The Great Stupid” Across The Pond: We Helped Save Roald Dahl’s Children’s Books From The Censors; Now They’re Coming For OO7

…who might soon be called “008” to soothe readers offended by the number seven. Seven deadly sins, seven dwarves, that creepy Morgan Freeman movie with Gwinneth Paltrow’s head in a box…it’s a touchy number, you have to admit.

I’d like to think in some tiny way Ethics Alarms helped spread the news of the despicable bowdlerizing of Dahl’s classics that resulted in his publisher backing down and adopting the New Coke solution to a fiasco: the anti-authors’ rights business announced over the weekend that it will henceforth offer “Dahl Classic” along with the vandalized “New Dahl.” Yeah, let’s see which sells more copies. There was hardly time to pop the champagne, however: we then learned that Ian Fleming’s James Bond novels are being re-written for “modern readers“to omit alleged “racist language” and “racial references.” The censored novels will be published in April to mark the 70 years since “Casino Royale,” the first in the series, was published.

There’s nothing quite like honoring an author by defacing his most famous works. At least they’re leaving “Chitty Chitty Bang Bang” alone. I think.

The indefensible conduct comes after Ian Fleming Publications Ltd, which owns the rights to Fleming’s work, commissioned a review by “sensitivity readers.” The British really don’t get that freedom of speech and expression thingy, do they? Neither does the rest of the world beyond our shores and porous borders. Now watch: U.S. progressives will argue that once again, the United States is out of step with its betters by not censoring literature and movies with the same wild abandon that it pulls down statues.

The disclaimer accompanying Fleming’s reissued novels, echoing Dahl’s publisher Puffin, will read: “This book was written at a time when terms and attitudes which might be considered offensive by modern readers were commonplace. A number of updates have been made in this edition, while keeping as close as possible to the original text and the period in which it is set.”

If Ian Fleming “might be considered offensive” to the political correctness police, imagine what’s going to happen to Mark Twain.

Let’s see: Fleming occasionally used “nigger.” I would love to know the context; I’m pretty sure he used it in dialogue because, you know, people used the word in “the period in which the books were set.” The taboo word has been “almost entirely” removed from the revised novels, being replaced by “Black person” or “Black man,” with the modern capital “B,” natch, when the reference to color hasn’t been cut entirely, because “sensitivity readers” know better than Ian Fleming did how James Bond novels should be written.

Asians are also protected: in the revised version of 1958’s “Dr No,” the criminals are called “gangsters,” with racial descriptors excised, and the race of a doctor, immigration officer, and a henchman shot by Bond have been erased. Ditto in the new version of 1961’s “Thunderball,”  where the ethnicity of a barman disappears, as does a butler’s race in 1959’s “Quantum of Solace.” It isn’t just race that gave the “sensitivity readers” the vapors: race plus sex really set them off. 1954’s “Live and Let Die” has a scene in which Bond visits Harlem and witnesses a strip tease in a club. Fleming wrote: “Bond could hear the audience panting and grunting like pigs at the trough. He felt his own hands gripping the tablecloth. His mouth was dry.” The revised version reads, “Bond could sense the electric tension in the room.”

And so on. How dare these pompous, greedy (this is all about money), presumptuous assholes rewrite what Ian Fleming wrote? This is no different from museums painting over naked breasts in classic oil paintings because “sensitivity watchers” are upset by nipples. The Independent seems to suggest that the rewrites don’t go far enough, noting that some of Bond’s derogatory references to Asians and the books’ sexism have (so far) been allowed to remain.

I have no new reactions to this that were not revealed the Dahl post, which concluded,


Censorious morons.

Morons with power, the worst variety of all.

There can be no ethical justification for this.

For there can’t be. I wish I could say that “it can’t happen here.” But you and I know it can, and unless we are vigilant and absolute in our vocal opposition, it will.

21 thoughts on ““The Great Stupid” Across The Pond: We Helped Save Roald Dahl’s Children’s Books From The Censors; Now They’re Coming For OO7

  1. Based on a quick search, there are 20 uses across all Ian Fleming’s James Bond books. 15 of them are references to “niggerhead”, defined as “(now offensive) A coral or stone outcrop that stands above the surface of the water”. (Bond spends a lot of time sailing and diving, sheltering under them, clinging to them, having them crunch against the hull, and so forth.)

    Four of the remaining five are in Live And Let Die. There’s a chapter entitled “Nigger Heaven”, with the same phrase appearing once within the chapter in reference to a fancy black nightclub. In that chapter (within dialect that I suspect has also been removed from the new versions), a nightclub patron uses it: “‘Perzackly,’ he paused to let the big word sink in, ‘perzackly wha’ goes between yuh ‘n dat lowdown ornery wuthless Nigguh? Yuh sleepin’ wid him mebbe?” A woman held hostage by Mr. Big says to Bond, “You’ve given me a new life. I’ve been shut up with him and his nigger gangsters for nearly a year. This is heaven.”

    And lastly, in Diamonds Are Forever, Bond recalls a discussion with his CIA friend Felix Leiter in which “Bond had referred to Mr Big, the famous Harlem criminal, as ‘that damned nigger.’ Leiter had picked him up. “Careful now, James,” he had said. “People are so dam’ sensitive about colour around here that you can’t even ask a barman for a jigger of rum. You have to ask for a jegro.”

  2. Last night, Beloved Spouse and I watched the Fred & Ginger musical “Swing Time,” which neither of us had ever seen. The “Bojangles of Harlem” number near the end was, of course, intended as an homage to Bill Robinson, but Astaire performs the number in blackface, and we wondered aloud when the time would come that we could no longer have access to the film.

    Also currently at home from Netflix, by the way, is the Laurence Olivier “Othello,” which don’t think I’ve ever seen in its entirety–if I did, it was multiple decades ago. We got this one specifically because of the furor over the Bright Sheng incident that both you and I, Jack, wrote about a year and a half ago.

    What I find interesting here is that without the intervention of the Woke Folk, I might have let that “Othello” languish at or near the bottom of the queue. The play is not one of my favorite Shakespeares, and I’ve seen it several times in other versions. But–and I suspect I’m not alone in this–I find myself drawn to what other people tell me I’m not supposed to see, especially if those protestations seem to me a little suspect. Were I of a cynical disposition (perish the thought!) I might wonder if these censorial outbursts regarding Doal and Fleming might not be simply a marketing ploy.

    The reversal on the Dahl case didn’t surprise me at all. Puffin will sell the Woke Folk a bunch of copies of the (ahem) revised version, which, like airport toilet seats, have been “sanitized for [our] protection.” More importantly, Dahl is in the news again, and his obvious anti-Semitism (not prominent in the books, but elsewhere) has been papered over in the reaction to the edits. “No such thing as bad publicity,” and all that…

    I suspect it’s likely that a lot of rational people are going to wonder if they’ll ever again get the opportunity to buy the uncensored texts… so they’ll buy them now. I predict that sales of the unaltered versions will not only outstrip the bowdlerized ones, but that they’ll represent a significant increase in what the finance markets call “year over year.”

    Is this intentional? Well, it would require a marketing department that was willing to take a public relations hit to make some short-term profits, and the brains to think of the strategy. I’m doubtful about the latter, but not the former.

    • Curmie: 1.) EA had two posts on that “Swing Time” number, here and here. It got all EA links banned from Facebook for more than a year 2) I agree with all pf your conclusions. 3) I love “Swingtime”—the best of the Fred and Ginger movies for my money. “The Way You Look Tonight” is one of my favorite songs, the roller-skating routine is amazing, and “Never Gonna Dance” is sublime. And yet it was a relative flop initially!

      • I looked up your “Swing Time” posts, which didn’t register as much when you wrote them because I hadn’t seen the film.

        Yes, the set piece at the beginning of “Bojangles of Harlem” is unquestionably offensive to a 21st century sensibility, but that, as you note, “You can take the film out of 1936, but you can’t take 1936 out of the film.” And it appears for only about three seconds.

        I was unaware of the John Bubbles connection when I watch the movie… as I suspect a fair number of the original movie-goers were, as well. That adds some nuance in both directions.

        We liked the film, too. It’s not exactly long on plot, but watching a Fred and Ginger movie for the story-line is rather like going to a punk rock show for the harmonies.

        At least you know what got EA banned from Facebook. CC was unlinkable for over a year with no explanation at all except an unspecified violation of “community standards.”

  3. Huckleberry Finn has already been banned and in-banned several times. Rather than spend my time giving some perspective on this (I am basically lazy), I will quote from a paper by a respected scholar: “ One early criticism of Huck Finn concerned Twain’s intentional use of bad grammar in the book. In general, the language is considered an accurate representation of that spoken by rural populations in the pre–Civil War South. Some critics accept Twain’s presentations as characteristic of the time portrayed but also believe that the effect of some of the racially charged language continues to contribute to negative racial stereotypes. Some feminists have disliked what they consider to be Twain’s negative, sexist portrayals of females in Huck Finn.

    Alleged racist content has been the reason most often cited for banning or challenging Huck Finn, particularly since 1957 and the rise of the civil rights movement in the United States. From the beginning, however, some critics objected to Huck Finn’s “racial content.” Those critics note that Twain uses the word nigger 213 times in the book. Detractors have also objected to what they call Jim’s “childlike character” and maintain that he lacks credibility as an African American.

    Huckleberry Finn has faced censorship in schools and libraries
    Since the 1970s, the use of Huck Finn in schools and libraries has been challenged in a number of states. In 1988 a poster for Banned Books Week referred to these challenges by asking, “Would you call Huck Finn a racist?”

    Twain supporters contend that the author was anything but racist and insist that the Adventures of Huckleberry Finn was a satire in which Twain sought to highlight the hypocrisy of the society in which he grew up. Defenders of the book also insist that Jim comes across as having more common sense and as being more talented than either Huck or his best friend, Tom Sawyer.

    These critics suggest that overall the white characters are portrayed more negatively than black characters, citing the extreme piety of Miss Watson and the irresponsibility of Huck’s father as examples. Ironically, Huck Finn was conceived only after an earlier explicit exposé by Twain of slavery was censored. Twain responded by writing what he claimed was a satirical exposé of slavery, the Adventures of Huckleberry Finn.

    This article was originally published in 2009. Elizabeth Purdy, Ph.D., is an independent scholar who has published articles on subjects ranging from political science and women’s studies to economics and popular culture.”

    • Twain was an abolitionist and a brilliant satirist. Twain portrayed the brutal reality of slavery through all of his writings, as he did with the hypocrisy of the hyper-religious and the con artists of his day. Yet, Huck Finn was morally superior any of the other characters because he fully believed Jim was entitled to freedom, that slavery – the immoral owning of another individual – was a moral disgrace and was willing to suffer Hell’s damnation to free him, for all of his wild and meandering ways. Jim was portrayed in better light because he truly cared for Huck and sought to protect him.

      • Exactly! The last 2 paras of the article point that out. I should have given more context because it is your perspective that she supports in her paper.

  4. James Bond is a white, heterosexual, male, British (i.e., colonialist), quasi-military, bed-hopping, misogynistic, rabidly anti-Communist, ableist, gun expert who’s shot dead and otherwise dispatched hundreds of humans and despoiled vast swaths of the environment. Unless they turn him into Michelle Obama and re-write the books in their entirety, the effort to clean the books up is doomed.

  5. Just a side note (and sorry if I missed a previous mention), but Dahl co-wrote the screenplay for the Chitty Chitty Bang Bang movie.

  6. Removing “offensive” wording, rewriting existing passages to be more sensitive, adding wording to be more inclusive, etc. This goes well with their revisionist view of history. Orwell’s novel 1984 was a work of fiction, but the cancel culture/woke mob seem to be using it as a instruction manual.
    BTW. I wonder when they’ll get around to rewriting 1984 which will portray Big Brother as a benevolent leader and hero guiding the masses that are too stupid to guide themselves?

    • Perfect. How can anyone clean up James Bond? He’s an inveterate rascal. Next, Bugs Bunny will come out as a transexual so as not to make his bits where he’s in drag hurtful to anyone. And no more violence. No more safes dropping on Wiley Coyote.

  7. People from the past would also find our current wonton culture of excess, laziness and debauchery extremely offensive and horrifying. The irony isn’t lost on me. Glass houses….

  8. I was just reminded of one of the best lines about people wanting to change a text (for whatever reason). Irish playwright Abbie Spallen, talking about her own work, but pretty much universally applicable:
    “My number-one thing is that it’s not Burger King: You can’t have it your way. It has to be the way it is.”

  9. Pingback: Guest Post: Insidious Stealth Mind-Control Is Spreading And I Have No Idea What Can Be Done About It – Society's Building Blocks

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