R.L. Stine, the author of the wildly popular children’s horror series Goosebumps, is the latest in a growing list of writers who have had their work edited after the fact.
Similarly to Roald Dahl, Stine’s work was changed to “keep the language current and avoid imagery that could negatively impact a young person’s view of themselves today, with a particular focus on mental health.”
However, unlike Dahl, whose estate was aware of and approved the revisions, Stine was left in the dark. What’s worse, the changes actually happened in 2018, and we—including Stine himself—are only just finding out about them.
“I’ve never changed a word in Goosebumps,” Stine tweeted. “Any changes were never shown to me.”
Now that is truly scary.
It’s bad enough that these revisions are happening at all, but to do this to a living author without his knowledge is an even more egregious act of censorship and desecration of art.
Beyond that, these actions convey a message to children that they are far too fragile and incapable in their thinking to understand context—to recognize that cultures, norms, and ideas change over time. It cheats them out of learning and growing as a result of these important lessons, and insults their intelligence at the same time.
There’s a popular adage that says we must prepare the child for the road, not the road for the child.
Sanitizing works of fiction that may have outdated or questionable ideas—at least according to the subjective judgment of publishers—is like trying to smooth out the road, and failing to recognize that this is an impossible task. The reality is that the road will never be smooth enough, and the sanitization will never stop once it starts.
Instead of trying to make books conform to the sensibilities of self-appointed arbiters, we should allow a wide variety of art and literature to flourish—and let people make individual choices about what to read or let their kids read.
There will always be ideas, beliefs, behaviors, and interactions that our children will have to face without us. Better to prepare them to properly engage with and handle those circumstances than to try and convince them—and ourselves—that they don’t exist.