If you think censoring books like Charlie and the Chocolate Factory and James and the Giant Peach is bizarre, you can rest easy knowing one of the most widely-banned writers in American history agrees with you. In a recent interview for Variety, young adult author Judy Blume spoke about the recent controversy surrounding Puffin Books and their choice to “update” some beloved novels by Roald Dahl.
“What do I think about rewriting the Roald Dahl books?” the Are You There God? It’s Me, Margaret author said. “I think if Roald Dahl was around, you would be hearing what he thinks about that. Whatever he is, whatever he’s accused of being, there’s a lot of truth there. But the books are the books. Kids still love the books, and they love them the way he wrote them. So I don’t believe in that.”
Certain aspects of Dahl’s work haven’t aged well — the author has been subject to retrospective criticisms of sexism, racism, and antisemitism — but Blume stands by the importance of keeping classic literature in its original form. And as someone whose own work has been ostracized for depictions of healthy teenage sexuality, including menstruation, Blume worries about the slippery slope effect that could occur from retroactive censorship.
“Today, there are laws being enacted where a librarian can go to prison if she or he is found guilty of having pornography on their shelves… Try and define pornography today and you’ll find that it’s everything,” Blume added, mentioning that picture books Julián Is a Mermaid by Jessica Love and Heather Has Two Mommies Lesléa Newman were frequently banned, and considered “pornographic” by some legislatures.
But even as they go back to Dahl’s work, Puffin’s revisions seem rather inconsequential: In Charlie and the Chocolate Factory, for example, Augustus Gloop is now described as “enormous” instead of “fat.” In The Twits, Mrs. Twit is no longer depicted as “ugly and beastly,” but just “beastly.” Oompa Loompas are not “small men” anymore, but “small people.” And when the narrator of The Witches discusses how the female villains wear wigs to cover their bald heads, his grandmother responds: “There are plenty of other reasons why women might wear wigs and there is certainly nothing wrong with that.”
Blume’s career and legacy will be celebrated in Prime Video’s upcoming documentary Judy Blume Forever.