Matilda (novel)

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For other uses, see Matilda (disambiguation).
For the title character, see Matilda Wormwood.
First UK edition
Author Roald Dahl
Illustrator Quentin Blake
Country United Kingdom
Language English
Genre Juvenile Humor/ Classic
Published 1 October 1988

Matilda is a children's novel by British author Roald Dahl. It was published in 1988 by Jonathan Cape in London, with 232 pages and illustrations by the notable illustrator Quentin Blake. The story is about Matilda Wormwood, an extraordinary child with ordinary and rather unpleasant parents. It was adapted into an audio reading by Joely Richardson, a film in 1996, a two-part adaptation for BBC Radio 4 (later re-broadcast on BBC Radio 4 Extra) starring Nicola McAuliffe as Matilda and narrated by Lenny Henry. In 2010 it was adapted into a musical.[1][2]


Matilda is a young girl who is gifted with magical powers and precocity but her wealthy, dimwitted parents are oblivious to her prodigious skills and view her as a foolish and idiotic girl. Aggravated by the rude behavior of her mother and father, she constantly pulls pranks on them as discipline for their misdeeds, such as gluing her father's hat to his head with superglue after finding out that he cheated a customer or hiding a parrot in the chimney, tricking them into thinking there is a burglar in the house.

Eventually, Matilda begins schooling and encounters a loving, sweet teacher named Miss Honey, who is astonished by her unbelievable intellectual abilities and wants to move her into a higher class, but the school's hostile headmistress, Miss Trunchbull, who disciplines the pupils with abusive physical punishment, refuses. Miss Honey also tries to talk to Mr. and Mrs. Wormwood about Matilda's supreme intelligence, but they don't believe her. During one of the first scenes of the book at school, Miss Trunchbull punishes Matilda because her father cheated her with one of his cars.

Matilda quickly develops a particularly strong bond with Miss Honey. Her friend, Lavender, plays a practical joke on Miss Trunchbull by placing a newt in her jug of water, which leads Matilda to discover her secret telekinetic powers by using her mind to tip over the glass of water containing the newt on Miss Trunchbull. Miss Honey invites Matilda to tea at her tiny cottage in the forest. Miss Honey recounts her traumatic childhood experiences with her maliciously abusive aunt, with whom she was forced to live after the mysterious death of her father, Magnus. Stunned to learn that Miss Trunchbull actually was her aunt in question, Matilda devises a scheme in order to help Miss Honey earn her proper inheritance, of which Miss Trunchbull had seemingly stripped her, and develops her telekinetic gift through practice at home.

During a lesson that Miss Trunchbull is teaching, Matilda telekinetically raises a piece of chalk against the blackboard and scares Miss Trunchbull, and poses as Magnus' spirit, demanding that she is to provide his daughter with the wages that she needs by name. Then Matilda uses her telekinetic powers to pelt the Trunchbull with food from student's lunches. Petrified by this, Miss Trunchbull flees from her house, which is later discovered rightfully belongs to Miss Honey by her father's will, who moves back into it.

Matilda is re-positioned by the new headmaster to the year six level of schooling, where she discovers that she is no longer capable of accessing her powers of telekinesis, and Miss Honey theorises that it is probably because she must use more of her knowledge at school after skipping several years.

Matilda continues to visit Miss Honey at her house regularly, but one day she arrives home to discover her parents hastily packing to go on the run from the police who have discovered her father's deceptive practices in the automotive industry. Matilda asks permission to live with Miss Honey, to which her parents agree, thus providing her with a more loving home.


The novel was adapted to film in 1996, directed by Danny DeVito and starred Mara Wilson as Matilda. Although the film was not a box office success, Matilda received critical acclaim at the time of its release, and holds a "fresh" rating of 90% on Rotten Tomatoes. DeVito portrayed Mr. Wormwood as well as the narrator.

In 1990, the Redgrave Theatre, Farnham produced a musical version, adapted by Rony Robinson with music by Ken Howard and Alan Blaikley, which toured the UK. It starred Annabelle Lanyon as Matilda and Jonathan Linsley as Miss Trunchbull, and had mixed reviews.[3] A second musical version of the novel, Matilda The Musical, written by Dennis Kelly and Tim Minchin and commissioned by the Royal Shakespeare Company, premiered in November 2010. It opened at the Cambridge Theatre in the West End on 24 November 2011.[1][4] It later opened on Broadway on 11 April 2013 at the Shubert Theatre. The stage version has become hugely popular with audiences and praised by critics, with one critic calling it "the best British musical since Billy Elliot".[2]

Connections to preceding Roald Dahl books[edit]

One of Miss Trunchbull's means of punishments is to forcibly make an overweight boy named Bruce Bogtrotter eat an enormous cake to try to make him sick after finding him guilty of stealing some from the kitchen (in many of Dahl's novels there is a rude character that is overweight, Augustus Gloop for example, though Bruce Bogtrotter is portrayed as more sympathetic and even becomes somewhat of a hero to the kids by actually managing to finish the cake). In Roald Dahl's Revolting Recipes one of the recipes is based on that cake.[5]


  1. ^ a b Serena Alllot (26 November 2010) Waltzing Matilda: Dahl's classic dances on to the stage The Daily Telegraph
  2. ^ a b Once upon a time, there was a man who liked to make up stories ... The Independent (Sunday, 12 December 2010)
  3. ^ "The ‘Other’ Matilda Musical | Safety Curtain". Retrieved 2013-09-20. 
  4. ^ "RSC Sets Dates for Dahl’s Matilda Musical, 9 Nov". What' 30 September 2009. Retrieved 2010-04-07. 
  5. ^ Long, Dorothy. Revolting recipes.