Updated: Jul 16, 2020
Matilda by Roald Dahl: About the author - • Roald Dahl was born on the 13th of September 1916. • After spending his early years in boarding school, Dahl joined the RAF aged 23. He left the air force in 1940 after his plane crashed leaving him with severe injuries that would affect him for the rest of his life. • Over the next few decades, Dahl began publishing many books. He wrote 17 novels for children and has 48 published books. • Dahl had fascinating writing habits including only writing with an HB pencil on yellow paper and working between 10am-12am and then 4pm-6pm. As well as this he kept many interesting personal items -such as a chocolate wrappers formed into a ball- at his writing hut in the bottom of his garden ( I would highly suggest taking a look at the Roald Dahl website - www.roalddahl.com - as well as paying a visit to his museum in Great Missenden to learn more!) • He died on the 23 November 1990 at the age of 74. • His books, to this day, have sold more than 250 million copies worldwide as well as being turned into globally renowned films and musicals alike.
About the book - • Matilda was published in 1988 and is Dahl’s 27th published book. • The novel broke records, selling more than half a million copies in 6 months. • Dahl took at least two years to write Matilda, writing the first draft in around 6 months before completely starting again and rewriting every single word. • Once published Dahl is quoted saying - ‘now I’m fairly happy with it. I think it’s ok, but it certainly wasn’t before.’ • The novel focusses on Matilda Wormwood, a young girl with a passion for reading. • Matilda follows her as she navigates her difficult parents and terrible schooling. • Along the way, she meets Miss Honey, a teacher who fosters Matilda’s knowledge, passion and skills. • Essentially, the novel is an ode to the power and virtue of books and reading.
Matilda is the ultimate celebration of knowledge, books and reading. Personally, that synopsis for me is why everyone, especially children (it is after all written for them) should read it. Although, the short description simply isn’t enough to describe just how important this novel was to my perception of myself as ‘normal’ when I was younger. It’s that changing of perceptions which is why I’ve decided to include the book on my list. Dahl introduces us to Matilda Wormwood a clever girl, intoxicated by books whose desire is quashed by her parents who treat her as idiotic for this love and passion citing that ‘telly’ and ‘looks’ are of higher importance. Matilda wishes to ‘be outrageous’, her passion a subversive yet subtle act of rebellion against perceived normality perpetuated by her upbringing and eventual schooling. It is her teacher Miss Honey that ultimately takes on the much-needed role of caregiver teaching both our young heroine and the reader that being a keen reader is something to nurture and appreciate. As a young child who often felt different for loving reading, this message was invaluable taught me I didn’t need to think of myself as simply lesser than others just because I liked reading. My appreciation of Miss Honey went so far that I very happily ended up playing her in a production at my youth theatre aged about 9. In my opinion, the message of acceptance Miss Honey preaches is one that needs to be spread amongst all young people- reading and liking books is amazing, you are opening so many different avenues for yourself simply by sitting down and looking at words on a page. Dahl’s book taught me that this is the coolest thing in the world, and I urge everyone to read ahead and gain the same message. Differently, from many children’s authors, Roald Dahl was not afraid to question adult behaviours and heavily criticise them in the process, an act vital in ensuring children do not grow up with skewed perceptions of right and wrong. Here in Matilda, he does exactly that, illustrating extreme and wrong behaviours by the surrounding adult characters within the book. Miss Trunchbull, the headteacher of Matilda’s new school is the ultimate villain of the novel, for example, a cruel, violent bully who terrorises all those who cross her path. Her nastiness is the crux of much of the criticism throughout the novel. We see her as a caricatured villain through and through yet in the process Dahl highlights that her behaviour is wrong and is never ok rather than playing up to the typical depictions of teachers as purveyors of good morality that shadows much of children’s literature. Mrs Wormwood, Matilda’s mother similarly is a key example of Dahl’s disapproval. Her assertion that ‘a girl should think about making herself attractive…looks is more important than books’ is consistently and assuredly fought against within Matilda. Miss Honey and Matilda herself teaches us the opposite; books are the most important and a focus on looks is misguided and hurtful. This is undeniably a strong and needed message for all, especially young girls today plagued by images of ‘perfection’ and beauty. Obviously, I advocate reading the book first, but I cannot mention the book without talking about Matilda the Musical. Mostly this is because it is what reignited my passion in the story. Aged 15 going to a production of the musical with my high school drama class, led to me falling in love all over again. I beg everyone, if they can to go and see the musical. It’s kind of a masterpiece. Matilda sings in Naughty- ‘just because you find that life’s not fair it doesn’t mean that you just have to grin and bear it.’ A key message carried throughout Dahl’s book as well (in the words of the titular character- ‘if a little pocket calculator can do it, why shouldn’t I?) If you add the two together Matilda becomes a rallying call, showing us that children should be loved and nurtured and most of all it’s cool to be different.