We are developing the social individualist meta-context for the future. From the very serious to the extremely frivolous... lets see what is on the mind of the Samizdata people.

Samizdata, derived from Samizdat /n. - a system of clandestine publication of banned literature in the USSR [Russ.,= self-publishing house]

Re-writing the Fleming and Dahl books to make them “safer”

Well done on James Bond enthusiast David Zaritsky for taking a stand. Let’s treat readers like adults. Sure, the language in some of the books isn’t what I would want it to be, but then Joseph Conrad, Mark Twain, and many other writers could be faulted on the same basis. I understand that the Fleming family (I know some of the members and they are good people) has authorised this. But I think this is a mistake, because this process isn’t going to stop.

In a free market (I hardly need to stress the point in this neighbourhood) the owners of copyright and so on can of course do what they want. Their house, their rules, etc. But from a broader perspective, caving into this sort of pressure for change is a mistake that the owners will regret. Fleming wrote books that were racy at the time (even the late journalist, Paul Johnson, was furiously angry about them, showing his prudish side). Fleming had a journalist’s ear for accuracy in conveying dialogue, and the Harlem and Jamaica scenes in Live and Let Die, for example, show that. It isn’t nice, but segregation America and the language used at the time wasn’t nice, and Fleming was both beguiled by American prosperity and shocked by its underside. He conveyed that in muscular prose. (This is a man, who, remember, covered the Moscow show trials in the 1930s, and he knew what censorship meant.) I also think it is presumptious for his descendants to suppose that he’d be fine with having his books re-written to suit more sensitive tastes. The evidence cited in support of this claim is flimsy. One thing he condemned, as the books show, was moral priggery. (This short collection of essays nicely explains this.)

And then there is the Roald Dahl case. Puffin, the publishers of books for children and young adults, has re-written his stories, such as Charlie and the Chocolate Factory, to remove words and sentences that, for various reasons, are deemed unacceptable, such as making some characters gender-neutral, or removing the word “fat” around one of the various horrible children, etc. It is bowdlerisation, and some of the actual story “punch”, and that sense of subversive naughtiness that Dahl had, has gone.

Here’s an incisive commentary on the sorry business from Yaron Brook. Dr Brook thinks the whole “woke” phenomenon has peaked, and maybe it has. There is a defensiveness and sneakiness around what’s gone on in the Dahl case that suggests the perpetrators know what they are doing is bad. I am unsure: I think a lot of foolishness lies ahead of us. The Fleming adjustments are more open and proud, and that bothers me.

Anyway, my take is it that if you don’t like a book, fine. Explain why. That’s what learning, and education, is supposed to give us in developing a capacity to judge and discriminate. A person who cannot do that is not educated.

In the meantime, pre-censorship copies of Dahl, Fleming and others will be worth a lot more money. I have sets of all the Bond stories, and several moth-eaten paperbacks. I intend to keep good care of them. They’re not for sale.

By a sort of savage irony, today is World Book Day. Isn’t that nice?

31 comments to Re-writing the Fleming and Dahl books to make them “safer”

  • William H. Stoddard

    Last year, I bought all the Kipling books that were currently available in good editions, from the Just So Stories to A Day’s Work. Seeing that a reference to Kipling was cut from one of Dahl’s books (along with one to Conrad), I’m glad of my prudence. People have been apologizing for Kipling at least since Eliot, Auden, and Orwell, but we may now be in a time that will try to suppress him, or worse, domesticate him.

  • Martin

    Luckily there must be millions of copies of both authors’ novels out there. I certainly see them in almost every used book or charity shop I go to. Therefore you should be at least get the originals without having to give any money to these godawful publishers.

  • rhoda klapp

    Do the changes allow a new copyright? Another 70 years? Inquiring minds and so on.

  • Gene

    Kudos to Zaritsky for saying something, but for my taste he’s still far too nice about the censors. Maybe we could have two versions of the books … really?? For me, complaints about this trend can be many things, but must never be pleasant. That camel must be kept light-years away from this tent.

  • Fraser Orr

    You know there is a lot of offensive language in that book by George Orwell, 1984 too. The way they use the cis-normative paradigm of sexuality between Julia and Winston. And “Big Brother“, need I say more about such misogyny, such a propagation of structural patriarchy?

    They really should fix that, don’t you think?

  • Kirk

    Y’all are late to this fight by about three-four decades.

    The real story isn’t in the Bowdlerization of these particular authors. This is the late stage, where they’re getting bold because nobody’s noticed what’s been done with deaccessioning works that the libraries went and pulped after first destroying the card catalogs and they censored the electronic records so that old books with “unacceptable” ideas couldn’t be found anymore, resulting in them not being checked out, justifying their “deaccessioning” and pulping. There’s a whole story there that you should have gotten on top of and done something about thirty-odd years ago, but everyone was too damn busy with their own lives to notice that the custodians of our cultural memory banks were actively destroying things because they found them objectionable.

    Library ‘science’ became politicized sometime back in the 1970s, and the massive culls of material got going about the time they started making libraries social centers offering guitars and other extraneous BS. Y’all just didn’t notice…

    You want an indicator? Go down to the library and start trying to get your hands on anything like a personal memoir or something, written back in the 18th or 19th Century. You’ll like as not have to go to an interlibrary loan, and half the time with those, you’re going to get refused. Then, if you’re not satisfied that I’m right, go looking for some work on a politically incorrect subject, and try and see what you can actually get your hands on. Try for the unexpurgated copies of things like Jonathan Swift’s works, see how easy those are to find.

    Hell, if you really want amusement, try to get your hands on the books listed in the bibliographies of things like Hayek’s work, the really old and esoteric stuff. It won’t be at all easy.

    They’ve been purging the social commons now for most of my life, and I think I may be one of the only people who noticed, because I’m not a college student coming to this crap fresh, and I remember what it used to be like. I’ve tried using the local library the way I used to, and they can’t produce the goods, anymore. Granted, my desires are a lot more specialist and esoteric, these days, but when I went down to try and get my hands on some books I remember getting when I was in high school, because I was trying to confirm some memories I had, I discovered that those books were no longer available. Anywhere.

    Nice that you’re concerned, now, but… You’re more than few days late, and a lot of dollars short. The outright vandalism of Dahl and Fleming are mere footnotes to all of this; the real damage that the termites did went on with nobody noticing, nobody caring, and it went on for decades. All those books they pulped because they weren’t being checked out? Most of them weren’t being checked out because the card catalogs that described them had been destroyed, and the electronic replacements de-emphasized them because they weren’t acceptable to the librarians.

    This fact is one of the reasons I’m so contemptuous of my so-called betters, the educated-yet-idiot. They proudly place their diplomas and other credentials on their walls, but in terms of true scholarship and respect for knowledge? They’re mostly pygmies, squatting among the ruins of our elders, having torn down the shelves of all those libraries of books with which to make the fires they’re burning the books on. Dolts, cretins, and ignorami, that’s the most charitable thing you can say about a lot of these people.

  • John


    A cracking take on the current lunacy by Lionel Shriver. Well worth a read.

  • Sigivald

    Fortunately, with scanners and OCR, original versions of every text one could ever want can be preserved, trivially shared, and enjoyed approximately forever. Samizdat, what?

    (No, physical book fetishists won’t be satisfied, but that’s a completely different problem.

    The book’s soul is the text, not the paper.)

  • bobby b

    My proposal is, a change in IP law.

    If you hold derivative copyright to a work (you didn’t create it in the first place) and you alter it in this fashion, you retain that copyright in the altered work, but lose rights in the original work.

    The original Dahl work ought to now be considered “out of copyright”, and open for use and printing by all.

  • Johnathan Pearce (London)

    bobby b: In the UK, copyright runs for 70 years after the death of the author. Fleming died in 1964, 81 years ago, so in 11 years’ time, anyone can print a version of the books, with or without any censorship. My suggestion to genuine fans of the books is to point this out, and suggest to the family and those who have made a fat living off Fleming’s books that they have 11 years of this period left, and then it’s open season.

    Here is a link to the UK copyright system.

  • Johnathan Pearce (London)

    Kirk: This is the late stage, where they’re getting bold because nobody’s noticed what’s been done with deaccessioning works that the libraries went and pulped after first destroying the card catalogs and they censored the electronic records so that old books with “unacceptable” ideas couldn’t be found anymore, resulting in them not being checked out, justifying their “deaccessioning” and pulping. There’s a whole story there that you should have gotten on top of and done something about thirty-odd years ago, but everyone was too damn busy with their own lives to notice that the custodians of our cultural memory banks were actively destroying things because they found them objectionable.

    Kirk, you state that there is this whole story that “you” (ie, people commenting and reading this) should have “gotten on top of”, but be careful about whom you are throwing (understandable) arrows at. I have been involved in classical liberal activism since the mid-80s, and this has been part of the agenda. I recall when “political correctness” became a thing, and people at the time mocked it and some of us were pointing to the problem back then. I remember the Salman Rushdie affair, and the half-hearted defence of the right to publish, and so on.

    Yes, it is true that this has crept up on the awareness of some people, in part because they hadn’t realised the scale of the disintegration of education in the West since the 60s. We live in the age of “feelings”. We live in an age when “language is violence”, but burning down a shop in protest about This or That is okay. The ability to separate feelings from facts, from the subjective from the external, objective reality, has been steadily undermined by decades of crappy philosophy. The rot has started at the head.

    By the way, the next time I meet any of the Fleming family, I am going to ask them to justify this to my face.

  • bobby b

    JP: Thanks. Our system is similar. But I was being devious. If someone – right now, today – printed up a million copies of the original and sold them with a rush of publicity – “they’re bastardizing our culture, get a copy of the REAL Dahl here, now!” – they could probably make a killing. People would buy it and never read it, just to make a point and join a team.

    Of course, then the other team would furiously buy up copies of the new improved Dahl, to make their own point.

    Makes me think I should approach rights-holders of other revered works, set this same scenario in motion, (“alter these works in a woke way, and I’ll print the original work”) and then we’d all make a killing from the two sides in the flurry of market interest!

    Anything for the buzz. I’ll bet that Dahl is selling heavily right now, old and new.

  • Kirk

    @Jonathan Pearce (London),

    The “you” I’m addressing aren’t necessarily the people on this site, but the generalized “you” of the so-called “intelligentsia” who’ve been asleep at the switch or actively conniving with these cultural vandals.

    I got lectured back when I objected to the destruction of the card catalogs by the well-credentialed creeps who ran the system; a bunch of jobsworthies if I ever met any, people who had no appreciation at all for what their true duty to human knowledge was. When I noticed that the replacement computer systems were all “curated”, highlighting that which they agreed with, and that all of the deeper and less agreeable texts had been “missed” in the systems? Yeah; that’s about the time I really started paying attention and complaining, only to be told that I wasn’t credentialed and thus, had no say at all in what they were doing. Nobody else thought it was an issue, then.

    And, so here we are. The folks that think the efforts to digitize things are going to save us are delusional; how hard is it to flip a few bits and make things disappear that you don’t like? How hard is it to go in and modify the scanned documents? It’s all pixels on a screen, and he who controls the pixels controls that which is displayed.

    There is a coming dark age, one enabled by all these ‘brights’ we’ve put in charge of things. We will regret it, and our descendants will think of us in the same terms we think of the barbarians who burned the library at Alexandria and who dumped Baghdad’s books into the Euphrates.

    The thing that just pisses me off the most is the pious certitude with which these creepy self-appointed “gatekeepers” go about their labors, high-mindedly insistent that they know best, that what they are doing is right and proper, lest the coming generations get the wrong ideas into their heads.

  • Subotai Bahadur

    While the publishers of Roald Dahl’s works have agreed to keep the unexpurgated versions alive in separate editions, I do not know about the other copyright holders. However, something to be aware of. I have heard that Amazon Kindle is planning to change to the censored versions and that it will be done the next time they do a Kindle software update. Get and hide hard copies. Think “Fahrenheit 451”.

    Subotai Bahadur

  • William H. Stoddard

    Kirk: There are cruder versions than that. A good friend of my wife’s and mine worked for many years for the San Diego public library. She was working in the downtown branch when they triumphantly opened the new, modern, larger building and shut down the old one that I used to walk to on my lunch hour. And she told us about the part of the move where, because the new branch had significantly less shelf space (have to make room for the electronic interfaces and the cultural exhibits, you know), the librarians were told to go through the shelves and just dump a large part of the older books that weren’t circulating a lot. . . . Their collection was materially thinned by the “improvement.”

  • William H. Stoddard

    The Chinese tag line for Qin Shihuangdi is “He burned the books and buried the scholars.”

  • Johnathan Pearce

    Subotai Bahadur: By the way, this also proves that relying on a Kindle or other tech is a folly. I have quite a library in my flat, and sometimes friends of mine poke fun at it and ask why I don’t put all this on a digital device. The naivete is clear.

    Buy the actual books; learn to look after them, keep copies of really valuable ones. And give them to those whom you respect and love in your will. Beware anyone whose bookshelf is smaller than their plasma TV.

    One of my favourite films is Agora, starring Rachel Weisz, the wife of Daniel Craig (how ironic is THAT?), and based around the destruction of the Library of Alexandria. It pissed off a lot of American Christians, apparently, because it showed the early Christian movement in an unfavourable light. And today, we have a new group of zealots. They also resemble the Protestants who whitewashed the interiors of churches and tore down statues (sounds familiar?), pictures and other decorations. We keep making these errors – it’s as if humanity has a witch-hunting gene.

  • Phil B

    Try http://WWW.Gutenberg.org for out f copyright books on a wide variety of subjects. My interests are the US Civil War and the history of the Rifles in Spain during the Napoleonic wars. You can download the memoirs of Philip Sheridan, Ulysses Grant written by them and in their own words, notthe modern reinterpretation of their actions by modern historians. The search facility is a bit clunky but usable (search by title, subject or author) and you have a selection of formats to download the book. I download the entire web page and then it is “set”.

    OK, call me weird (even by my own standards, I’m weird) but I’ll print out and bind up a copy if I will refer to it again. besides, I like reading in bed and a paper copy is good for when I fall asleep and bonk myself on the nose with the book. Kindles and IPads etc. are a bit more fragile … Ahem!

  • bobby b

    I’ve never been able to derive that same tactile satisfaction from a Kindle that I get from a real paper-page book. Looks like this failing might finally pay off. (Last time I moved, my kids made fun of me because we had to get an additional small trailer for books. I got two Kindles for Christmas that year.)

  • Chris R

    In the short term I recommend turning off Automatic Book Updates in your Amazon Content and Devices/Preferences page: a two edged sword best left in the sheath. Can Amazon abuse DRM protocols and disable your books remotely? I don’t know and don’t want to be a victim. Open Source e-readers and offline, durable, read-only media are a possibility. And there’s always the Fahrenheit 451 option, but my memory isn’t what it used to be.

  • James Strong

    One of the problems is that people are going to think, about Roald Dahl, ‘It’s only children’s books; it’s not really serious.’
    And about Fleming, ‘It’s only some spy stories; it’s not really serious.’

    It’s far more serious than that.

    Unless you’ve got a hard copy of the original you will never be able to trust the text that will be available inn the future.

  • Kirk

    @James Strong,

    Precisely so. And, it gets even worse for historians and other folk.

    If you want to know what the daily morning reports for a specific US Army unit participating in the Battle of the Bulge looked like, you can still get at the original paper copies at the National Archives.

    Lots of people do that, needing to document things like Uncle Roger’s wounds for the Veteran’s Administration. Historians love the ability to go in and cross-reference the reports with what they’ve been told during oral history recording.

    Now, go try and do that for the War on Terror. You can’t, because all the records were digital, encrypted, classified, and usually erased when the units left the theater on rotation. I used to work a couple of desks down from the Divisional Historian for 101st Airborne Division on its second tour in Iraq; that guy was a gem. One of the thing I learned from him was how little of the actual records were being retained in any sort of accessible form, and how hard that was going to make life for historians and anyone else who needed to get at that data.

    The raw material simply isn’t there, because it was all digital and all of it was expunged to save space. End of WWII, by contrast? All the paper records were sent to the National Archives, and you can get copies of them to this day.

    That won’t be possible for anything we’ve done since the dawn of the digital age. Everything from before? It’ll be better documented than the stuff we have from far more recent conflicts. Ironic as hell, but true.

  • Paul Marks

    Copyright was intended to protect the creator and their window and orphans.

    Originally it was for five years, eventually that went up to 50 years, and now 70 years – an insane length of time (for example the works of Tolkien are still copyright – although the man died 50 years ago, which means that people who care about the works can not produce adaptations, but the copyright holders who HATE Tolkien and everything he stood for, can-and-do).

    However, now the copyright is NOT owned by the creator or their window and orphans – it is owned by some vast international corporation (such as Netflix of Amazon) because they bought the copyright with the funny money they got (at specially low interest rates) from the money-from-nothing financial system (the fiat money Credit Bubble system) – the “Cantillon Effect” that concentrates the economy in a few hands.

    The threat to books, films, television programmes, and so on, is not from “pirate editions” – it is from the corporate editions, as the vast international corporations that now own the copyrights have a deep hatred (again – this language is not too strong) for Western Civilisation.

    People who treat the vast international corporations as just “business enterprises” out to make money for the shareholders, are lost in theory – and refuse to look at the world as it actually is.

    The political and cultural agenda is what matters to these vast international corporations – they hate Western culture and they wish to help destroy it. After all a “Corporation” is really the Corporate bureaucrats who run it – and they are “educated” people.

    They do not hide their hatred – it is quite open, formalised in such things as the Diversity, Equity and Inclusion agenda which corporations openly support.

    Again – thinking these are just “business enterprises” out to make money for “Aunt Agatha” with her share certificates behind the clock on the mantlepiece, is quite mistaken.

    That is not what organisations such as Google (which has helped systematically corrupt the State of Arizona – where millions of human beings live) are about – they could not give a damn about “Aunt Agatha”, it is international “governance” (Environmental and Social Governance ESG, United Nations Sustainable Development goals, the “cultural aspect” of Agenda 2030 – censorship and indoctrination, and-so-on) that they care about.

    And why not? After all as long as the monetary and financial system remains the institutionally corrupt mess that it is, the money will keep coming to the magic circle of vast international corporations – regardless of what ordinary customers want, and ordinary customers are going to be “Nudged” anyway.

    A boot (with fashionable logo on it) stamping down on a human face – that is the vision for the future.

  • Paul Marks

    Sometimes there is a grim humour in it all.

    For example, who does the Disney Corporation hate above all people in the world – who do they hate even more than Donald John Trump?

    If you answered “Walt Disney” then you get a Merit Mark.

    The Disney Corporation (in private) hate Walt Disney more than they hate anyone else – he sums up everything they hate.

    Yet they live off his work – even though the man died in 1966.

    But, even now, the Disney Corporation can not openly admit that they hate and despise Mr Walt Disney and everything he stood for – they have to twist and turn and pretend they do not hate him.

    There is a grim humour is watching that.

  • Douglas2

    I discovered this phenomena in kid-lit when I was less than 10 years old. In the various libraries accessible to me, two had the complete series of 50+ “Nancy Drew” books, but the older looking one were substantially longer for many of the first few dozen of the series.
    In some cases the whole plot was different, but in most it there was wholesale removal of useful descriptive stuff, presumably to keep the whole thing to a reduced number of plates in printing, along with other more subtle changes.
    My impression in general was that in the old versions that had 25 chapters rather than 20, the character of Nancy was more confident, independent, and outspoken –and in the shorter newer books she was more sweet, compliant, and in need to people to help her.
    It struck me because I would have expected the books revised in the 2nd-wave feminist era to be the ones with a more independent and outspoken protagonist.

  • Alex

    It struck me because I would have expected the books revised in the 2nd-wave feminist era to be the ones with a more independent and outspoken protagonist.

    That expectation is logical if you accept the propaganda at face value. In the current era, women’s rights are championed and it’s celebrated that boards of companies become female-dominated yet at the same moment in time it’s borderline impossible to define “woman” in public discourse, women-only spaces are no longer allowed to exist and millions of women are now effectively wage slaves. The only thing that one can conclude about the rhetoric of the so-called progressives is that they mean the opposite of what they say, intend the opposite of what they claim. I think this was just as true in that era.

  • Rich Rostrom

    On the subject of books that may be cancelled and Nevil Shute…

    I have a very old copy of his 1953 novel In The Wet, which is set in 1983, and deals with relations between the Crown and the Commonwealth nations and Britain. The Queen in 1983 figures in it. The protagonist is Squadron Leader David Anderson of the RAAF.

    He is chosen to be commander and chief pilot of the jet aircraft Australia will provide the Queen, thus making the royal family’s travel independent of the whims of the British government. For such a very important and sensitive assignment, Anderson is interviewed by various high officials.

    One such greets him with “Hello, David.” He replies “My friends call me ‘Nigger’… Because I am one.” He is 1/4 aboriginal, and wants everyone to know where they stand right away. (BTW, no one in the story has the slightest problem with his race. This includes his love interest, one of the Queen’s personal assistants, who addresses him once as “Darling Nigger”.)

    I wonder if this book will get purged.

    As to de-acessioning: ISTM that a library which never drops anything would become enormously bloated with dross. Obsolete science, second-rate fiction, etc. 50 years ago, I noticed that the fiction section of my high school library was cluttered with books that hadn’t been checked out in decades. I pointed this out to the staff, and they cleared out the stuff. I doubt if anyone missed anything as a result.

  • Kirk

    Rick Rostrom,

    As to de-acessioning: ISTM that a library which never drops anything would become enormously bloated with dross. Obsolete science, second-rate fiction, etc. 50 years ago, I noticed that the fiction section of my high school library was cluttered with books that hadn’t been checked out in decades. I pointed this out to the staff, and they cleared out the stuff. I doubt if anyone missed anything as a result.

    Congratulations on your complicity in the crime.

    You don’t even recognize what you’re doing; even if those books are not getting attention today, and seem to be without merit, they should still be preserved. Why? Because they represent the cultural commons, that which went before. Those books were once read enough that the library chose to stock them; the ideas and the information in them were once quite au courant. If nothing else, reading them gives you an insight into what the people of that era were reading and what they believed. Even seeming ephemera like the card catalogs and the checkout slips are important, because then you can tell who checked them out, what sort of readers they attracted, and how popular they were.

    All that information becomes vitally important when you want to study the history of that era. Without it, you can’t make sense of a lot of the things that happened during those years. It’s like trying to study English without going to look at the influence Greek and Latin had on it. You need the information, and discarding it in the name of being “current” is criminal.

    At the least, the books should have been scanned and the ephemera about circulation retained in context with it. How else would you be able to say whether or not something was actually a popular and thoroughly believed idea, without that context?

    I know a lot of what I know about the 1930s and WWII in rural Oregon precisely because I had my Grandmother’s pack-rat trove of magazines, clippings, and newspapers to read through with fascination as a kid. If I hadn’t have had the local library, whose collections were then relatively untouched, in order to read the books those sources referenced, I’d know a lot less.

    I don’t think you’re quite as smart as you think you are.

  • Paul Marks

    Rick Rostrom.

    I agree with the first part of your last comment – indeed I remember the book you mention, I have read it (it is indeed a good story).

    In the past men did not care about ethnic stereotypes – they were used on everyone, the Scots were “Jock”, the Welsh “Taffy” and so on – Vice President Curtis (elected back in 1928) used to dress up in an Indian feather head dress and do war cries. “Cultural Appropriation” NO – as “Indian Charlie” was an Indian, and he had taken part in battles against other tribes, and when he was a child he could not speak English. Yet he wound up Vice President of the United States – all those racist white people voted for him.

    But I have to agree with Kirk on the latter part of your comment.

    Do not destroy old books and magazines and so on – Kirk is right about all that.

    Remember the God-Damned-Sons-of-Bitches (to use technical and scientific language) who dominate just about everything now, are trying to rewrite the past – original stuff (anything) is vital, to try and preserve the memory of what things were really like.

    Yes including old (“long refuted”) scientific theories and so on – it is very important to have first hand accounts of what people believed, written at-the-time by people who actually believed the theories they were were writing about.

    The same is true for economics, history, and everything else.

    And literature – what is out of fashion now may not always be out of fashion. And it is very important to remember what people used to like reading – and-so-on.

  • Nicholas (Unlicensed Joker) Gray

    Well, I for one can’t wait for James Bond to have all those horrible kill scenes modified so that James just shoots fly-swatters at all his smersh and scepter enemies! After all, their nasty attitudes were the result of Capitalism, or its’ enemies, and not their fault! Come to that, Flemings’ character was not his fault, either, so there!