Wednesday, February 22, 2023

Paved with Good Intentions

So, recently I've been seeing articles in the news about the Rahl Dahl Story Company (formerly the Dahl estate, now owned by Netflix) making changes in Dahl's text:

This is just the latest of a string of modern-day rewritings of stories by famous authors who have passed on, as with the DOCTOR DOLITTLE books. That earlier well-intentioned attempt shows just how insidious such efforts can be--in the case of Hugh Lofting's books they edited out not just objectional art but also factional elements like a favorable reference to Darwin.

The most interesting part of the whole enterprise, to me, is the insistence of those carrying out this Bowdlerization that what they're doing isn't censorship. Whereas in the past such changes were made on an ad hoc basis, I find it fascinating to learn that there's now a group publishers can go to, Inclusive Minds. Here's how the group describes its work (

Occasionally publishers approach us to consult Inclusion Ambassadors when looking to reprint older titles. Whilst this is not the main focus for the Ambassadors (and we believe better authenticity is achieved through input at development stages), we do think those with lived experience can provide valuable input when it comes to reviewing language that can be damaging and perpetuate harmful stereotypes. In all our work with marginalised young people, the very real negative impact and damage caused to self-worth and mental health from biased, stereotypical and inauthentic representation is a recurring theme.

On any project, it’s the role of the ambassador to help identify language and portrayals that could be inauthentic or problematic, and to highlight why, as well as indicate potential solutions. The publisher (and / or author) are then able to make informed decisions regarding what changes they wish to make to manuscripts and illustrations. Inclusive Minds is here to connect people with relevant lived experience to help in the wider process and do not edit or rewrite text.

 'Ambassadors': the people who read through the work and propose changes. The group prefers its 

'Inclusion Ambassadors' be present during the creation of the work; certainly before its publication.

On their website Inclusive Minds takes care to emphasize that they don't edit or rewrite. Instead of making changes to a heirloom text submitted for their scrutiny, they provide the publisher with a list of things that need to be changed to bring it in accord with the current sensibilities.

Tolkien's position on all this is clear. He was against Bowdlerization, preferring instead to push back the target audience to older readers while preserving the text intact: 

The beauty and horror of The Juniper Tree . . . with its exquisite and tragic beginning, the abominable cannibal stew, the gruesome bones, the gay and vengeful bird-spirit . . .  Without the stew and the bones --which children are now too often spared in mollified versions of Grimm* --that vision wd largely have been lost.

* [JRRT Note]: They shd not be spared it --unless they are spared the whole story until their digestions are stronger.

The tale Tolkien is discussing here is one of the Brothers Grimm; the 'vision' is of 'distance and a great abyss of time.'

( OFS .48).

--John R

current reading: HISTORY BITES: THE LIFE & WORKS OF J. R. R. TOLKIEN by Solomon Schmidt (2019)

also THE COMPLETE ENOCHIAN DICTIONARY by Donald C. Laycock (sans the actual dictionary parts), 1994.

1 comment:

Wurmbrand said...

The next step may be for publishers of children's books to include a stamp on the covers of their books that indicate these were approved by Inclusive Minds. This would be parallel to the practice of comic book publishers who had "Approved by the Comics Code Authority" on the covers of their magazines for some years. The Code went through various versions, with rules such as that women were to be drawn realistically, without exaggeration of physical attributes, that vampires, werewolves, etc. would not appear, that the stories and art would not be gruesome, and so on. The curious development was that one ended up with a threefold presentation of comics. There were the "funny animal" and TV tie-in comics from Gold Key, which did not carry the Code stamp, presumably because the publisher thought no one would figure that they needed it. There were the superhero comics, Westerns, etc. from Marvel, DC, and Charlton with the Code stamp. And there were the horror comics from Warren and other companies, not displayed with the first two groups of comics, which in varying degrees sort of flaunted their non-Code content.

Dale Nelson