Matilda (novel)

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First UK edition
AuthorRoald Dahl
IllustratorQuentin Blake
CountryUnited Kingdom
GenreChildren's literature, Fantasy
Published1 October 1988
PublisherJonathan Cape

Matilda is a book by British writer Roald Dahl. It was published in 1988 by Jonathan Cape in London, with 232 pages and illustrations by Quentin Blake. It was adapted as an audio reading by actress Kate Winslet; a 1996 feature film directed by Danny DeVito; a two-part BBC Radio 4 programme starring Lauren Mote as Matilda, Emerald O'Hanrahan as Miss Honey, Nichola McAuliffe as Miss Trunchbull and narrated by Lenny Henry; and a 2010 musical.[1][2][3][4]

In 2012 Matilda was ranked number 30 among all-time children's novels in a survey published by School Library Journal, a monthly with primarily US audience. It was the first of four books by Dahl among the Top 100, more than any other writer.[5] Time included Matilda in its list of the 100 Best Young-Adult Books of All Time.[6] Worldwide sales have reached 17 million, and since 2016 sales have spiked to the extent that it outsells Dahl's other works.[7]


In a small Buckinghamshire village, Matilda Wormwood, a five-and-half-year-old girl of unusual precocity, whose parents treat her with disdain, resorts to pranks like gluing her father's hat to his head, hiding a friend's parrot in the chimney to simulate a burglar or ghost, and secretly bleaching her father's hair to get revenge on her parents (particularly her father) for their rude and neglectful manners towards her. Matilda has read a variety of books by different authors, especially at the age of four, when she read many in six months.

At school, Matilda befriends her teacher Jennifer Honey who is astonished by her intellectual abilities. She tries to move her into a higher class but is refused by the headmistress, the tyrannical Miss Agatha Trunchbull. Miss Honey also tries to talk to Mr. and Mrs. Wormwood about their daughter's intelligence, but they just ignore her.

Miss Trunchbull also confronts a girl with pigtails called Amanda Thripp and does a hammer throw with the girl. Another boy called Bruce Bogtrotter is caught by the cook stealing a piece of Miss Trunchbull's cake and she makes him eat all of the cake in front of the assembly.

Matilda quickly develops a particularly strong bond with Miss Honey and watches as Miss Trunchbull terrorizes her students with deliberately creative, over-the-top punishments to prevent parents from believing them like throwing them in the chokey. When Matilda's friend Lavender plays a practical joke on Miss Trunchbull by placing a newt in her jug of water, Matilda uses an unexpected power of telekinesis to tip the glass of water containing the newt onto Miss Trunchbull.

Matilda reveals her powers to Miss Honey, who confides that she was raised by an abusive aunt after her father's suspicious death. Her aunt is revealed to be Miss Trunchbull who appears (among other misdeeds) to be withholding her niece's inheritance so that Miss Honey has to live in poverty in a derelict farm cottage and that Miss Honey's salary is being paid into Miss Trunchbull's bank account for the first 10 years of her teaching career (while she is restricted to £1 per week in pocket money). Preparing to avenge Miss Honey, Matilda develops her telekinetic gift through practice at home. "When I pass the test, I will go into my room" is Matilda's favorite line throughout the story. Later during a sadistic lesson that Miss Trunchbull is teaching, Matilda telekinetically raises a piece of chalk to the blackboard and writes on it, posing as the spirit of Miss Honey's late father and, addressing her using her first name (Agatha), demanding that Miss Trunchbull hand over Miss Honey's house and wages and leave the school, causing Miss Trunchbull to faint.

A short while later the school's deputy headmaster Mr. Trilby visits Miss Trunchbull's house to try and find out what has happened, but finds it empty with no sign of what has happened to her. As Mr. Trilby becomes the new head of the school, he proves himself to be capable and good-natured with the result that Matilda herself advances to the highest level of schooling. Rather to her relief, she is no longer capable of telekinesis; this is explained by Miss Honey as the result of using her mind on a more challenging curriculum.

Matilda continues to visit Miss Honey at her house regularly, but one day finds her parents and her older brother Michael hastily packing to leave for Spain which Miss Honey explains is the result of the police finding out that he has been selling stolen cars. Matilda asks permission to live with Miss Honey to which her parents rather reluctantly agree (her mother somehow finally understanding Matilda's bond for her teacher). Matilda and Miss Honey both find their happy ending and the school's atmosphere and curriculum overwhelmingly improve under Mr. Trilby.

Dahl's inspiration[edit]

Mr. Wormwood was based on a real-life character from Roald Dahl's home village of Great Missenden in Buckinghamshire.[8] The library in Great Missenden was the inspiration for Mrs. Phelps' library, where Matilda devours classic literature by the age of four and three months.[9]


Matilda the Musical has been performed at the Cambridge Theatre in the West End since November 2011. Pictured in July 2016.

The novel was made into the film Matilda in 1996. It starred Mara Wilson as Matilda, and was directed by Danny DeVito, who also portrayed Mr. Wormwood and narrated the story. Although the film was not a box office success, it received critical acclaim at the time of its release, and on Rotten Tomatoes has a score of 90% based on reviews from 21 critics.[10]

In 1990, the Redgrave Theatre in 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.[11] 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][12] It opened on Broadway on 11 April 2013 at the Shubert Theatre. The musical has since done a US tour and opened in July 2015 in Australia. The stage version has become hugely popular with audiences and praised by critics, and won multiple Olivier Awards in the UK and Tony Awards in the US.[13] One critic called it "the best British musical since Billy Elliot".[2]

The actress Kate Winslet provides the English-language audiobook recording of Matilda.[3] In 2014, the American Library Association shortlisted her for an Odyssey Award for her audiobook performance.[14]

On 27 November 2018, Netflix was revealed to be adapting Matilda as an animated series, which will be part of an "animated event series" along with other Roald Dahl books such as The BFG, The Twits, and Charlie and the Chocolate Factory.[15]

Connections to other Roald Dahl books[edit]

One of Miss Trunchbull's punishments is to force an overweight child, Bruce Bogtrotter, to eat an enormous chocolate cake, which makes him so full that he cannot move. The cook had caught him stealing a piece of cake from the kitchen. In Roald Dahl's Revolting Recipes one of the recipes is based on that cake; whereas Bruce is a more sympathetic variation of Augustus Gloop (from Charlie and the Chocolate Factory) and similar gluttons, and made something of a hero by finishing the cake without suffering nausea.[16] The short story The Magic Finger by Roald Dahl, released in 1964, may have been a precursor to Matilda. A young girl has power within her finger to do things to other people when she gets emotional about a cause she feels strongly about.[17]

Matilda at 30[edit]

Celebrating 30 years of the book's publication in October 2018, original illustrator Quentin Blake imagined what Matilda might be doing as a grown up woman today. He drew images of her undertaking various possible roles, including an explorer, an astrophysicist, running the British Library, and others.[17] While stating it would be nice to know what Matilda would do as a woman, author Cressida Cowell states, "Why does a part of us not want to know what Matilda has become? Somewhere in our heart of hearts we never want Matilda to grow up – we want her to be like Peter Pan, eternally young."[17]


  1. ^ a b Serena Allott (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. ^ a b "Roald Dahl's Matilda Audio CD - read by Kate Winslet". Roald 20 May 2016. Archived from the original on 8 July 2018. Retrieved 20 May 2016.
  4. ^ "Episode 15, Matilda, Classic Serial - BBC Radio 4". BBC. Retrieved 4 June 2016.
  5. ^ Bird, Elizabeth (7 July 2012). "Top 100 Chapter Book Poll Results". A Fuse #8 Production. Blog. School Library Journal ( Archived from the original on 13 July 2012. Retrieved 26 October 2015.
  6. ^ "100 Best Young-Adult Books". Time. Retrieved 29 October 2019.
  7. ^ Ferguson, Donna (15 September 2018). "Matilda's new adventures at 30: astrophysicist, explorer or bookworm". The Guardian. Retrieved 22 September 2018.
  8. ^ Sturrock, Donald (2010). Storyteller: The authorized biography of Roald Dahl. Simon & Schuster. p. 287.
  9. ^ "Matilda statue stands up to President Donald Trump". BBC News. Retrieved 1 October 2018.
  10. ^ "Matilda". Rotten Tomatoes. Retrieved 12 September 2018.
  11. ^ "The 'Other' Matilda Musical | Safety Curtain". Retrieved 20 September 2013.
  12. ^ "RSC Sets Dates for Dahl's Matilda Musical, 9 Nov". What' 30 September 2009. Archived from the original on 9 February 2013. Retrieved 7 April 2010.
  13. ^ "Play about maths genius equals Matilda's record". The Guardian. 29 April 2013. Retrieved 3 May 2013.
  14. ^ "Odyssey Award winners and honor audiobooks, 2008-present". Retrieved 1 July 2014.
  15. ^ “Netflix's new Roald Dahl animated series 'reimagines' Matilda and Willy Wonka”. The Mirror. Retrieved 9 March 2019
  16. ^ Long, Dorothy. Revolting recipes.
  17. ^ a b c "Matilda, stay young: it's bittersweet to see Roald Dahl's hero turn 30". The Guardian. Retrieved 16 October 2018.