Matilda is a little girl who is far too good to be true. At age five-and-a-half she’s knocking off double-digit multiplication problems and blitz-reading Dickens. Even more remarkably, her classmates love her even though she’s a super-nerd and the teacher’s pet. But everything is not perfect in Matilda’s world. For starters she has two of the most idiotic, self-centered parents who ever lived. Then there’s the large, busty nightmare of a school principal, Mrs. (“The”) Trunchbull, a former hammer-throwing champion who flings children at will and is approximately as sympathetic as a bulldozer. Fortunately for Matilda, she has the inner resources to deal with such annoyances: astonishing intelligence, saintly patience, and an innate predilection for revenge.
Reading this was kind of weird for me. The movie version is engraved in my brain as I have literally watched it at least ten times all the way through. I love the movie so much, but I had never read the book, but now I can say I think it is a fantastic adaptation. That’s not really an objective opinion as it’s probably mixed up with all my childhood nostalgia, and I haven’t seen the movie in a while. The book is almost exactly the same, and the few changes there were made it better for film. The dialogue is even exact at some places so I kept seeing the movie playing while I was reading. I love everything about the movie, even if it does seem ridiculous sometimes.
Matilda has been criticized as having badly one-dimensional characters but I don’t really see that as a problem. Firstly, it’s written for kids and the only really one dimensional character is Mrs. Trunchbull. I find the depiction of teachers and school and what kids may take from this really interesting. This may be because I read Roald Dahl’s childhood memoir Boy, which gives a lot of insight into the author’s experiences with school and how he saw school as a child, which really translates over into Matilda. If I remember correctly, there was a matron at one of his boarding schools that was really terrible (at least in his recollections) and was probably the inspiration for Mrs. Trunchbull.
The story of Matilda has Roald Dahl’s trademark macabre and genuinely terrible real life elements too of course. However, parents are portrayed a bit differently here. In James and the Giant Peach, James has abusive, enslaving aunts, while Matilda’s parents are horribly neglectful and just really don’t care about her at all. The real threat comes from Mrs. Trunchbull. Her parents are annoying and frustrating. They are lazy and self-centered, and in reality parents like them would be criminals (although they do feed her and clothe her so that’s something at least). Luckily, Matilda is a genius and can take care of herself, or else her parent’s neglect would be much worse. We also can’t forget Miss Honey’s aunt who apparently horrifically abused her, until she was a subservient slave. Thanks Roald Dahl.
Like I mentioned before, Matilda can be looked at in the context of a novel all about the education system, and Roald Dahl’s opinions on it. Although, the book takes place in England, and I’m American, and the movie takes place in America too (I’m pretty sure), so that might change things a bit. It opens with some musings about the role about parents in their children’s education, and we are presented Miss Honey as a sweet, helpless first grade teacher, and the evil Mrs. Trunchbull as the principal. Boy is full of complaints about abuse from teachers, beatings from headmasters, and a general dislike of school. I think that there’s a lot that could be thought about from this perspective.
Of course, Matilda is still a quick, fun read, where the child ultimately triumphs over her oppression and the terrible adults, a common theme for Dahl. Matilda is a sweet (despite being ridiculously intelligent) child, and she loves reading, which endears the reader to her very quickly. Her powers are also a really weird touch that I don’t really know what to think about. Very bizarre. All the characters are interesting, and Matilda’s tricks are funny and clever.
Of course, this is just rambling from someone much over the intended age of the book (though I think I’m good at reading like a kid when the book is meant for kids). I think what kids take out of a reading of this is what’s important and interesting. I think that most kids are pretty smart and like a little darkness in a book (with plenty of hope still of course!), and they are intelligent enough to know that the lesson of the book is not that all adults are evil and you should play pranks on them. Roald Dahl never talks down to kids, and takes them seriously. Kids could take a lot of different lessons out of Matilda. And / Or they probably just found it fun and entertaining.
Congratulations! You made it to the end of review! If there’s anyone left. I just had a lot to say (I could say I lot more) and I have background info and comparisons. You can find a lot in children’s books sometimes. I really like Roald Dahl and want to read all of his books one day.
Genre: Children’s, Magical Realism
Length; 240 pages