How childhood classics are slapped with warnings to appease easily-offended modern readers – from Lewis Carroll to ‘fatophobia’ in Harry Potter and ‘age-gap romance’ in Jane Austen’s Emma (as Oompa Loompas go gender neutral)


Classic tales and childhood favourites are now being changed or come with trigger warnings in case they cause offence to modern readers. 

Over recent years, many children’s books have faced scrutiny over the choice of words or content.

Staples like Lewis Carroll – author of Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland – was hit with a disclaimer after York St John University warned students over the ‘colonialist narratives’ that some stories may contain.

The warning was put on the website of the Rees-Williams Collection of Children’s Literature stories which includes another classic – Peter and Wendy by JM Barrie.

It stated how the tales – many of which  are from the 19th and early 20th centuries, with some dating back to 1780 – may contain ‘colonialist narratives’.

The books could contain vocabulary and illustrations which may appear ‘racist’, according to the site – giving some of the tales a warning for ‘white supremacy’. 

Oompa Loopas in recent years have been redesignated as being gender neutral, a concept that was alien to Roald Dahl's original work

Oompa Loopas in recent years have been redesignated as being gender neutral, a concept that was alien to Roald Dahl’s original work 

Harry Potter has also been hit by trigger warnings, including 'fatophobia', which may relate to scenes like this one immortalised in the Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban film

Harry Potter has also been hit by trigger warnings, including ‘fatophobia’, which may relate to scenes like this one immortalised in the Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban film

A warning on Alice in Wonderland stated how it could contain 'colonialist narratives', with vocabulary and illustrations likened to 'white supremacy'

A warning on Alice in Wonderland stated how it could contain ‘colonialist narratives’, with vocabulary and illustrations likened to ‘white supremacy’

The trigger warning stated: ‘Within the 150 years of children’s writing which is represented in the collection, there is a widespread occurrence of colonialist narratives which centre white supremacy, and racist and orientalist methods of both fictional and historical storytelling.

‘As such, it is possible, if not likely, that items consulted from the collection will include language and visual imagery which is racist, and many people may find their contents upsetting and offensive.’

It says that the university aims to explain why such works are kept ‘when their ability to cause damage endures’ and says that they provide evidence of the ‘racist marginalisation and stereotyping of peoples through children’s literature’.

The warning adds: ‘Here at York St John University, we unequivocally reject the stereotypes and offensive narratives which are contained within these documents..’

Previously, the university told the Daily Telegraph that the ‘guidance’ had existed since 2019 and that it has a ‘responsibility’ to inform students of any content that might be ‘offensive and outdated’.

This is not the only children’s classic that has been impacted recently – Harry Potter readers have been made aware of the ‘fatphobia’ that the magical stories contain. 

A website, Booktriggerwarnings.com, compiled a list of warnings for thousands of books that readers should proceed with caution with. 

The site states it is ‘dedicated’ to ensuring book lovers are ‘better informed’ and ‘safer’ with their choice of reads. 

Nearly all of the Harry Potter books are listed with various warnings. The first of the tales, Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone comes with six trigger warnings.

They include body horror, bullying, child abuse, fatphobia, self-sacrifice and violence. 

The ‘child abuse’ warnings come from the Dursley’s treatment of Harry in forcing him to sleep under the stairs.

Meanwhile readers have also called out JK Rowling for depicting villianous characters as ‘fat’, branding it ‘fatphobic’.

In the tale, Dudley is described as ‘very fat and hated exercise’, Rubeus Hagrid is considered ‘too big to be allowed.’

Nearly all of the Harry Potter books are listed with various warnings. The first of the tales, Harry Potter and the Philosopher's Stone now comes with six trigger warnings on some sites

Nearly all of the Harry Potter books are listed with various warnings. The first of the tales, Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone now comes with six trigger warnings on some sites

Jane Austen's classic, Emma, seen here in the film version, has warnings over 'age-gap romance'

Jane Austen’s classic, Emma, seen here in the film version, has warnings over ‘age-gap romance’

Jane Austen was another author on the site – with her classic, Emma, featuring with warnings over ‘age-gap romance’.

It was first published in 1816 and follows the perils of misconstrued romance in Regency England. 

However, guidance listed by the website tells readers to be wary of an ‘age gap romance’ and ‘implied grooming’ within the book.

The warnings are in relation to Emma’s romance with Mr Knightley who describes Emma as being ‘quick and assured’ at the age of 10 – when he would have been 27 or 28.

Trigger warnings on classics are not the only hurdles that well-loved novels face – some have even had their words changed.

Roald Dahl’s books were extensively rewritten by censors last year after publisher Puffin hired sensitivity readers. 

Willy Wonka’s Oompa Loompas in Charlie and the Chocolate Factory have now been made gender neutral and new editions no longer use the word ‘fat’.

Augustus Gloop was also only described as ‘enormous’ rather than the original phrasing.

The changes triggered a wave of outrage from parents with some saying they would be boycotting the updated tales.

The Roald Dahl Story Company, which controls the rights to the books, previously said it worked with Puffin to review the texts because it wanted to ensure that Dahl’s ‘wonderful stories and characters continue to be enjoyed by all children today’. 

The language was reviewed in partnership with Inclusive Minds and any changes were ‘small and carefully considered,’ the company said. 

Other changes to Dahl’s books included to The Twits – a popular tale about a wicked couple, Mr and Mrs Twit – Mrs Twit’s ‘fearful ugliness’ was been chopped to ‘ugliness’.

Since the edits, in The Witches, a paragraph describing them as bald under their wigs is now followed by a new line: ‘There are plenty of other reasons why women might wear wigs and there is certainly nothing wrong with that.’

A witch posing as a ‘cashier in a supermarket’ now works as a ‘top scientist’.

Many of Roald Dahl's classics have been edited to change the wording in the belief modern children would be upset by some of the language

Many of Roald Dahl’s classics have been edited to change the wording in the belief modern children would be upset by some of the language

In the new version of The Twits, Mrs Twit's 'fearful ugliness' has been chopped to 'ugliness'

Hundreds of changes have been made to celebrated children's author Roald Dahl's books, to eliminate language and descriptions that sensitivity readers found to be offensive

Hundreds of changes have been made to Dahl’s books, with some passages not written by the author being added

Following the Roald Dahl review, the Daily Mail analysed Enid Blyton’s beloved tales, including the Famous Five, and found that the wording has been changed. 

Words like ‘queer’, ‘gay’, and ‘brown’, with reference to tanned faces, changed to avoid causing offence.

Blyton’s first Famous Five adventure – Five on Treasure Island – introduced youngsters Julian, Dick and Anne and their tomboy cousin Georgina, or George, plus her dog Timothy.

In the 1942 edition of the popular book, ‘queer’ was applied to everything from cormorants to waves but never used in reference to sexuality. 

Enid Blyton's Famous Five was also hit with changes, a Daily Mail analysis found, when words in the 2023 edition varied from previous versions

Enid Blyton’s Famous Five was also hit with changes, a Daily Mail analysis found, when words in the 2023 edition varied from previous versions 

However, the analysis found that in the 2023 Hodder Children’s Books edition available it had disappeared and was replaced with other phrases like ‘peculiar’, ‘odd’, ‘strange’, ‘funny’, ‘weird’, and ‘amazing’.

Another publisher, Penguin Random House, added trigger warnings last year about ‘language and attitudes’ to the latest edition of Nobel Prize-winner Ernest Hemingway’s The Sun Also Rises.

The warning read: ‘The publisher’s decision to present it as it was originally published is not intended as an endorsement of cultural representations or language contained herein.’

Despite being considered one of America’s greatest novels, The Sun Also Rises faced criticism for anti-Semitic tropes. 

Some authors claim to have had their work changed without their knowledge to make it appeal to the modern reader more. 

Author R.L Stine (pictured) said certain words in his successful Goosebumps series had been changed without his knowledge

Author R.L Stine (pictured) said certain words in his successful Goosebumps series had been changed without his knowledge

Attack of the Jack O'Lanterns had multiple edits made by the publishers Scholastic

Attack of the Jack O’Lanterns had multiple edits made by the publishers Scholastic

Last March, author R.L Stine said certain words in his successful Goosebumps series had been changed without his knowledge.

Publisher Scholastic made more than 100 amendments, changing words such as ‘plump’ to ‘cheerful’, and replacing ‘crazy’ with ‘silly’.

Goosebumps became a popular hit in the 1990s and sold around four million copies a month at the peak of their success.

The publishing company said the changes were made to protect young people’s mental health.

However, the author claimed he was not aware and said in a post on X/Twitter: ‘The stories aren’t true. I’ve never changed a word in Goosebumps. Any changes were never shown to me.’

In 2021, it was revealed how Cambridge University was reviewing an archive of over 10,000 books and magazines to expose authors who have been ‘offensive to historically enslaved, colonised or denigrated people’.

Dr Theodor Seuss Geisel, author of the Dr Seuss books, wrote The Cat in the Hat

The Water Babies by Charles Kingsley in 1863

Children’s classics like The Cat in the Hat and The Water Babies were given content warnings in Cambridge University’s online library  

This included classic children’s books and was part of the process of moving the texts to an online library.

In digital versions, words, phrases and images deemed harmful were to be flagged and content warnings placed at the beginning of each text. 

Among others, Dr Theodor Seuss Geisel, author of the Dr Seuss books, was hit with the warnings for ‘overt blackface’ and cultural insensitivities. 

The Water Babies, Charles Kingsley’s 1863 children’s classic about a young chimney sweep, is described as having the potential to ‘harm readers without warning’ for comments about Irish and black people. 



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