March 27, 2023

Are we re-writing history?

First it was Road Dahl and now Agatha Christie. It seems nobody is immune to the wrath of the new age woke reader. In case you missed it, the new thing to do is take old literary works and re-writing them. Totally understandable if you missed this by the way, between the war in Ukraine and the collapse of yet another financial entity it’s all too easy to miss something as mundane as rewriting old literary works to make them more agreeable to contemporary readers. Yet for some reason this really irked me.

Roald Dahl - 2001 edition vs 2022 edition

Rewriting the works of renowned authors to cater to modern sensitivities is not only unnecessary but also undermines the essence of the literary creations. These authors wrote during a specific time, and their works are products of their context, culture, and lived experiences. Attempting to sanitise their works to conform to contemporary standards is tantamount to altering history, which is an affront to the integrity of literature. Yes, certain language is problematic if not damn right offensive. But this is the reality of their time and a product of their lived reality. This is what the world was back then. Blunt, offensive, a little bit racist and mysogynic even.

Cleansing their works and erasing what today is perceived as offensive language is just pointless. It doesn’t erase the reality of the time or the struggles of those who had to live in it.

Rewriting works to cater to modern sensitivities undermines the idea of freedom of expression and could also be seen as a form of censorship. It sends the message that certain ideas or themes are unacceptable in today's society, and that they should be altered or erased altogether. This approach limits artistic expression while it also ignores the fact that literature serves as a reflection of the society in which it was created. By acknowledging and analysing the problematic elements of these works, we can better understand the cultural attitudes and beliefs of the time period in which they were written.

Instead of trying to sanitise works, we should focus on critical thinking and encourage dialogue. We need to focus less on plucking out words from literary works and instead focus more on creating a safe space for ideas to be explored, challenged and discussed without the fear or being cancelled.

Ultimately, it is through critical engagement and reflection, not through censorship, that we can create a more inclusive and nuanced understanding of literature and its role in our world. Leave books as they are. And if you are desperate for a book polished with nicities and non offensive language, just pick something else.

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