Writer Roald Dahl (1916-1990) in December 1971.

Editor’s Note: David M. Perry is a journalist and historian and co-author of “The Bright Ages: A New History of Medieval Europe.” He is a senior academic adviser in the history department of the University of Minnesota. Follow him on Twitter. The views expressed here are those of the author. View more opinion on CNN.

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As a nerdy Jewish kid in Indiana and Tennessee in the late 1970s and 1980s, I had far better relationships with books than I did with other kids. If I liked a book, I read it again, and again and again.

David Perry

And so it was with Roald Dahl’s “Charlie and the Chocolate Factory.” Dahl’s protagonists Charlie and later James (of the “Giant Peach”) both provided early models for how to find a better way through a hostile world where I always felt like an outsider.

Given that personal history, the announcement that Netflix has acquired Dahl’s entire catalog and plans a robust lineup of multimedia adaptations ought to feel like good news.

Except I have no plans to recommend them to my kids. I’m not interested in what Netflix has planned, nor was I in any of the Dahl films that have come out in the last decades. In fact, although surely my children have read some of his books in school and seen some of the films, at no time have I suggested that they read Dahl.

Seeing his work still celebrated fills me with sadness, leaving me caught between attachment to something that mattered to me as a boy and commitment to the principles that, I hope, make me the man I am today.

Because I know that Roald Dahl hated Jewish people like me.

There are cases where it’s complicated to ascribe modern values to figures from the past and as a reader, my feelings, my emotions, are just not going to be consistent. I don’t share C.S. Lewis’ religious views and his treatment of his character Susan, who he wrote as choosing sex and lipstick over Narnia, has always irked me (and many others). J.R.R. Tolkien’s “Lord of the Rings” trilogy is, I’m sad to say, bound up in long histories of racism.

But my childhood copies of their books still occupy my shelves, some missing covers and pages, and I bought new copies for my kids and tried – with mixed success – to share my love of those stories with them. It’s hardly new for readers of one generation to struggle with the views of authors from another.

But Dahl is different. He passed away in 1990, only 31 years ago. And we know he was an anti-Semite because he said so. In 1983, for example, he suggested that Jews allowed themselves to be massacred by the Nazis and that “There is a trait in the Jewish character that does provoke animosity … there’s always a reason why anti-anything crops up anywhere; even a stinker like Hitler didn’t just pick on them for no reason.” He said, “American Jewish bankers…dominated” the US government. In 1990, months before his death, he summed it all up by saying, “I’m certainly anti-Israel, and I have become anti-Semitic.”

His anti-Semitism shows through in his writing, most notoriously in his 1983 novel “The Witches.” In that book, Dahl created a caste of hook-nosed women who can literally print money and who like to kidnap and murder innocent children. The characterization appears to draw directly from the blood libel slander, the medieval and modern conspiracy theory that Jews annually kidnap and murder Christian children. The story, incidentally, is also misogynist – as are my beloved Charlie stories: racist, sexist, ableist and fatphobic (go back and reread about Augustus Gloop, if you don’t believe me).

The Dahl family has apologized for Roald Dahl’s anti-Semitism, but the question remains, for readers and viewers, for TV producers and writers: what might it mean to eat the fruit from this poisoned tree?

In this polarized era, any attempt to point out bigotries embedded in popular culture meets with some pushback, often accompanied by cries of “cancel culture.” When the heirs of Dr. Seuss announced that they were voluntarily suspending the publication of six books that were overtly racist, Fox News covered the move as if it was a book burning in the public square. Rep. Kevin McCarthy, the GOP House minority leader, shared a video of himself reading “Green Eggs and Ham” (notably, not one of the six books in question), in order to cosplay the role of a free speech hero.

To avoid reckoning with bigotry in beloved books is the coward’s way out. Life would be easier if I could pretend that Dahl’s hatred of Jews wasn’t a problem; but I’m Jewish and it’s a problem. And if you aren’t Jewish and think it’s fine, that’s telling me something about you.

I’d rather not see any adaptations of Dahl, but if adaptations proceed – as it seems they will – I hope the creators are open about how they address embedded bigotries. I’m not sure “The Witches” can be saved, at least as evidenced by the abysmal 2020 attempt to yank that anti-Semitic fable into the American South. That story depends on the existence of a secret caste of women with vast resources who like to prey on children; I’m not sure it’s fixable.

The best solution I can come up with is to keep talking about the problems. This is, in fact, my whole approach to parenting in a difficult world. Trust children with information and let them make decisions, then support them as they do.

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    My daughter, perhaps due to my discomfort, was never a Roald Dahl fan, but she is a J.K. Rowling fan. She’s aware that her support for her trans friends puts her at odds with the Harry Potter author because of comments Rowling has made.

    She disagrees with Rowling, but is comfortable drawing a line between that and her feelings for the books (and especially Hermione, as strong a role model for her as those quiet Dahl boys were for me). She’s able to face the bigotry promoted by the author of books she loves with courage and clarity.

    I just hope that Netflix is able to do the same with their new Roald Dahl catalog.