Anthony Horowitz says Roald Dahl publishers ‘shot themselves in the foot’ over censorship row

Bestselling author Anthony Horowitz has said he is against “tampering” with the works of dead writers, amid an ongoing row over sensitivity readers.

In recent months, texts by late authors such as Roald Dahl, Agatha Christie and James Bond creator Ian Fleming have been found to have been updated by their publishers and literary estates.

A number of prominent writers and public figures have spoken against the practice, with Sir Philip Pullman suggesting it would be better to let the books go out of print.

Appearing at Oxford Literary Festival, Horowitz, the bestselling author of books including the Alex Rider series as well as three Bond novels, reportedly said he believed it was better for children to read books that might be deemed “offensive” than none at all.

The Times also claimed he said Dahl’s publishers had “shot themselves in the foot” with the updates, which involved removing descriptions of characters as “fat” and “ugly”.

“They really shot themselves in the foot with their attempts to bowdlerise it,” he said, calling the changes “sacrilege”.

“I’m basically opposed to tampering with the work of dead writers,” he said. “They can’t defend themselves. It seems to me that you should take the work, judge it and be aware of why we no longer share these opinions, or this view of the world. Rather than censor, cut and take out stuff.”

He later added: “Whatever your view of the book, even if it is something considered offensive or trivial or trite, it is better than not reading. As long as they read something.”

 (Getty Images)
(Getty Images)

Following a backlash, including unprecedented criticism from Queen Consort Camilla, Puffin said it would retain the “new” versions of Dahl’s books but also offer original editions.

An earlier statement had said the changes were made to ensure that the books could “continue to be enjoyed by all today”.

The Independent has contacted Horowitz’s representatives and Puffin for comment.

Horowitz has previously complained about sensitivity readings of his own work.

“My publishers have been more nervous in the editing of my books,” he claimed in an interview last year. “Issues of levels of violence, language and attitudes do get more closely examined. I’ve had some of my books read for sensitivity. But that’s the 21st century. People’s attitudes have changed and what didn’t offend people 40 years ago does now.”

Asked about how he approaches the character of 007, he remarked: “When I’m writing the books I always hear Sean Connery and see Daniel Craig. I am perfectly happy to defend Bond. My Bond is a man of the Fifties and Sixties, so he lives by a different moral code to the one we have now.

“I refute the suggestion that he is chauvinistic or sexist or misogynistic. I think he treats women very well in the books and has great respect for them, yet I admit he has some of the attitudes that we now would not celebrate in the 21st century, but that’s because the books were written in the 20th century. It was a different time.”