The case of the altered texts: HarperCollins hired sensitivity readers to revise Agatha Christie novels

Originally published at: The case of the altered texts: HarperCollins hired sensitivity readers to revise Agatha Christie novels | Boing Boing

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Infamously her novel And Then There Were None had to be retitled twice since its original publication in 1939 because the original title had the N-word and the “PC” title they replaced it with in 1964 just swapped in a now-outdated term for Indigenous Americans.


I can understand if certain racist words are removed when they are used in a descriptive sense. The first example though? It is a vile thing to say, but characters must be allowed to say vile things!


This is a blatant attempt to use current “woke-ism” in a cynical attempt to retain copyright over the work. By changing a phrase here and there, you can reclaim copyright over the “new” work, make sure no one else can use that version in anyway and keep milking whatever you can out of the husk of a long dead writer’s work.


So what will “Murder on the Orient Express” be called?


And when people complain they can throw us under the bus instead of taking the blame themselves. Capitalism has no morals beyond making more money is good.


“Unalived on the Parisian Express”


I’m curious (but not curious enough to look it up) to know if anyone has had any commercial success taking a public domain book and releasing an updated version where offensive words are added in where none were used originally.

Hopefully nobody has made any money adding racism, but did Pride and Prejudice and Zombies have any cursing in it, for example?


Really wish these publishing companies would just take the same stance Warner Bros took with their problematic Looney Tunes cartoons: they’re a product of their time, the prejudices contained within were wrong then and are wrong now, but it would also be wrong to whitewash the past and pretend like those prejudices weren’t present in the world and in these works.


Several of the problematic cartoons were pulled from commercial circulation though, and the infamous Censored Eleven haven’t been in syndication since 1968. I don’t think this publisher is willing to just stop selling these books.

Edit to add: if you follow that link you’ll see that in addition to the ones that were censored outright, there actually ARE a lot of heavily-edited Loony Tunes cartoons. So I don’t think that WB is being any less willing to edit their old films than this publisher is with their books.


Fair enough, I had no idea. Though I guess I’m not terribly surprised, that’s not too different from Disney’s treatment of Song of the South, Splash Mountain, etc.

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Death Train 2025


It’s worth noting that the UK Daily Telegraph currently has something of a bee in its bonnet about these “rewriting” stories because it’s an outpost of the culture war; I imagine they’ve had interns busy checking every author they can think of to see if there’s any hint of this, so that they can present it as “political correctness (or, rather ‘wokeness’) gone mad”.


It wasn’t just the title. The counting rhyme and the name of the island also got changed.

According to Wikipedia, the original title was used in the UK until 1986.


Gun Owner Rights on the Southeastern Asia Rapid Transit.


ahem, Istanbul

Is that seriously a way to get around the end of a book’s copyright? Just tweak and renew?

I don’t think that changes the copyright status of the original published text, but it does mean you’d have to be careful if you borrowed written content from the updated version.


The copyright in Agatha Christie’s novels is owned by a company she set up in 1955. Therefore the copyrights expire 90 years after date of first publication.

Just changing a few words, even the title, isn’t enough to create a new copyrightable work. These changes are being done for sensitivity, or wokeness, depending how you look at things.

I’m fine with changes in children’s books, which are influential on young minds. I’m not such a fan of this kind of change in books for adults, especially in work from particular time periods. What if someone made these kind of changes to The Great Gatsby? There’s some pretty shocking language in it, to the modern ear but which also helps establish the characters. (It’s interesting to find that the Great Replacement Theory was current among right-wingers 100 years ago.)

I’m cool with changing offensive titles. They’re on the shelf for everyone to see, without the narrative context which helps define their intention within the text.


These new versions need warning labels. Something like “This book has been modified to placate current cultural norms. This is not the work of the original author. Buy at your own risk”. The whole concept is ridiculous.

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