Posted on September 10, 2017
35. ‘Matilda’ by Roald Dahl
It has been many years since I read any Roald Dahl – particularly his books for kids – but I was given an Amazon voucher recently and decided to treat myself to the box set…
Of course, my first read from this gorgeous collection had to be Matilda, as it’s all about a girl who’s obsessed with reading. I read a lot of these books growing up (I think the only ones I haven’t read are Great Glass Elevator, The Magic Finger, Boy and Going Solo), but I have particularly fond memories of Matilda. Returning to it as an adult was just delightful, not least because of that spectacular opening line:
“It’s a funny thing about mothers and fathers. Even when their own child is the most disgusting little blister you could ever imagine, they still think that he or she is wonderful.”
Nobody can say that Roald Dahl doesn’t have a way with words.
Matilda is about a little girl who is supremely intelligent (far more so than her crooked, TV dinner-guzzling parents) and teaches herself to read. When she starts school she is encouraged by the wonderfully kind Miss Honey, but headmistress Miss Trunchbull – an absolute beast of a woman – hates children and especially Matilda. One day Miss Trunchbull turns on Matilda, and the little girl discovers that she has a special power which she can use to get her revenge…
One thing that surprised me on rereading this book is how late in the day Dahl introduces the magical element; it’s at least two-thirds of the way through. Before that, we are treated to various episodes in Matilda’s life – both with her family and at school – and I find it interesting that this book is mostly remembered for Matilda’s magic, when it’s a relatively small part of her life.
There are some wonderful messages for children in here (reading is good; girls can do more than just grow up and find a husband), as well as plenty of delicious glee to be had from kids getting their own back on unfair adults. (There’s a pretty great, topical message for adults in here too: libraries are hella important.) Of course, Dahl also gets dark – the Chokey is a horrifying prospect, and Miss Honey’s back story deals with some pretty profound issues – but I don’t think there’s anything wrong with darkness in children’s literature, and if anybody can do it right it’s Roald Dahl.
Naturally, I can’t write about a Dahl book without mentioning Quentin Blake’s fantastic illustrations. They really bring the characters to life, and towards the end they even merge with the text so that both are working together to tell the story. There are few creative collaborations better than Dahl and Blake.
Matilda is fun and magical and enchanting, and you can get as much delight out of reading it as an adult as you ever did as a child.
“The books transported her into new worlds and introduced her to amazing people who lived exciting lives. … She travelled all over the world while sitting in her little room.”
Have you read this book or are you planning to? I’d love to know your thoughts!