Matilda by Roald Dahl
Coming in at #74 on the BBC Big Read list is Matilda by Roald Dahl. It has been years since I read any Roald Dahl, but as a child I could not get enough of these wonderful books. I can still picture my battered copy of Charlie and the Chocolate Factory which was always my most favourite Roald Dahl book. I used to read at night way past bedtime, hiding the book under my pillow if I heard my mum's step on the stair and hiding it under my pillow if she came in. But I can also remember our school play based on Roald Dahl's retelling of fairy tales. These were done in Dahl's inimitable style. My favourite line to this day was from the retelling of Little Red Riding Hood, 'Drawing a gun from her knickers....'
What I am trying to convey is that the books of Roald Dahl were pretty interwoven throughout my childhood, as well as the childhood's of many people. Matilda is one of Dahl's most beloved books and has been adapted into a 1996 film starring Danny De Vito as well as two popular musicals, the second with lyrics by Tim Minchin.
Precocious Matilda is largely ignored by her parents; Mr Wormwood, an unscrupulous second hand car dealer and Mrs Wormwood, a woman obsessed with Bingo and TV dinners. One day Matilda discovers the library and at the age of four and a half, reads books by Charles Dickens, Ernest Hemingway and William Faulkner. At age five and a half, she starts school and her teacher, the lovely Miss Honey unearths Matilda's genius. When her parents are awful, she uses her brain to play tricks and get her own back.
But starting school, Matilda meets her match in the fearsome Miss Trunchbull. Miss Trunchbull despises children and being a former Olympic Hammer thrower, thinks nothing of swinging them round by their hair and launching them into the next field. It is then that Matilda discovers some very unusual powers, she is able to make objects move with her mind. Resolving to help sweet Miss Honey, she must use her powers to defeat Miss Trunchbull once and for all.
Whilst Matilda was published in 1988, It has been suggested that The Magic Finger by Roald Dahl was a precursor to this book. In the Magic Finger a little girl has sparks that fly out of her fingers when she is being treated badly or sees unfairness in the world.
In the village of Great Missenden where Roald Dahl lived, there is a wonderful museum available to visit (when covid restrictions are lifted of course). The library at Great Missenden was the inspiration for the library where Matilda discovers her love of books.
Language and Description
If ever I think of a Roald Dahl novel, my thoughts always turn to his truly wonderful use of language. This is conveyed through names in particular that truly epitomise the character. Contrast Mr Wormwood, which sounds slimy, a dishonest second hand car dealer who wears a lot of checked clothing with the name of Miss Honey, a tiny, kind waif of a lady. And I must make mention of the wonderful name of Bruce Bogtrotter, a wonderful child with a fondness for cake that rivals my own! The descriptions are marvellous, especially of Miss Trunchbull who looms tall in my mind.
It's always wonderful to re-read a book I read as a child, although thinking about it I was actually a teenager when this was published. haha. Matilda is a lovely story and I particularly adore how the novel praises the power of reading and the ability of books to transport you to magical places. I imagine generations of children reading this and being tempted to try a Charles Dickens book. The language is wonderful as always. There is no-one quite like Dahl for this. And it is always pleasing when the rotters get their comeuppance ! I have loved reading this again.
This book would be perfect for 7-11 year olds and adults of any age.