Peter Rhodes on a year of war, censoring books and a slap in the face from 1889

I never really warmed to Roald Dahl, so I don't have any strong views on the row over his prose being rewritten by a new generation of publishers and “inclusivity ambassadors.”

Roald Dahl - does censorship matter? Photo: Rebecca Naden/PA Wire
Roald Dahl - does censorship matter? Photo: Rebecca Naden/PA Wire

But does it really matter whether an obese character is described as “fat,” the word chosen by Dahl, or “enormous,” as substituted in later editions? It's a kid's book, for gawd's sake, not the Holy Bible.

Of course, original texts should be cherished - but not at any price. Consider that curious moment in one of my favourite books, Three Men in a Boat, written in 1889 by Jerome K Jerome. He was a kindly, Christian man with a delightfully innocent sense of humour. Yet one sentence leaps malevolently out of the page at today's reader, like a smack in the face. Describing his friend George's bright new blazer, Jerome says it should not be worn by anyone, except a seaside minstrel.

At this point Jerome uses the N-word, today the most shocking and offensive term in modern English. I believe Jerome would have been mortified at causing any offence, even 134 years in the future, and would gladly agree to that word being deleted or changed. Whether Dahl, an altogether more sinister writer, would consent to his words being censored is anyone's guess.

A year ago today we woke to the news that Russian forces had swept into Ukraine. Over the next few days we saw pitiful images of heroic but doomed Ukrainians building barricades and making thousands of petrol bombs.

And then we saw them fighting and realised maybe they weren't so doomed after all.

One early news report showed a Ukrainian soldier firing a rocket-propelled grenade at a Russian tank. He missed but immediately grabbed another RPG and fired again. Each time, he walked into the middle of the road to take his shot, horribly exposed to enemy fire. Could anyone not be impressed by such casual heroism?

The brave, skilled and increasingly well-armed Ukrainian army has so far fought a war of defence and counter-attack. What will happen when this awesome army is unleashed in a full-scale offensive? The accepted wisdom today is that this war will drag on for years. I wouldn't be greatly surprised if it were over within a year.

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