|Genre||Children's literature, Fantasy|
|Published||1 October 1988|
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.
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. Time included Matilda in its list of the 100 Best Young-Adult Books of All Time. Worldwide sales have reached 17 million, and since 2016 sales have spiked to the extent that it outsells Dahl's other works.
In a small Buckinghamshire village forty minutes by bus away from Reading and 8 miles from the Bingo club in Aylesbury, Matilda Wormwood is born to Mr and Mrs Wormwood. She immediately shows amazing precocity, learning to speak at age one and to read at age three and a half, perusing all the children's books in the library by the age of four and three months and moving on to longer classics such as Great Expectations and Jane Eyre. However, her parents (particularly her father) ignore and emotionally abuse her and completely refuse to acknowledge her abilities, and Matilda finds herself forced to pull pranks on them (such as gluing her father's hat to his head, sticking a parrot in the chimney to simulate a burglar or ghost, and bleaching her father's hair) to avoid getting frustrated.
At the age of five and a half, Matilda enters school and befriends her teacher Jennifer Honey, who is astonished by her intellectual abilities. Miss Honey tries to move Matilda into a higher class, but the tyrannical headmistress, Miss Agatha Trunchbull, refuses. Miss Honey also tries to talk to Mr and Mrs Wormwood about their daughter's intelligence, but they ignore her, with the mother contending "brainy-ness" is an undesirable trait in a little girl.
Miss Trunchbull later confronts a girl called Amanda Thripp for wearing pigtails (the headmistress repeatedly displays a dislike of long hair throughout the book) and does a hammer throw with the girl over the playground fence. A boy called Bruce Bogtrotter is later caught by the cook stealing a piece of Miss Trunchbull's cake; the headmistress makes him attempt to eat an 18 in (45.72 cm) wide cake in front of the assembly, then smashes the platter over his head in rage after he unexpectedly succeeds.
Matilda quickly develops a particularly strong bond with Miss Honey, and watches as Trunchbull terrorises her students with deliberately creative, over-the-top punishments to prevent parents from believing them, such as throwing them in a dark closet dubbed "The Chokey", which is lined with nails and broken glass. When Matilda's friend Lavender plays a practical joke on 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 Trunchbull.
Matilda reveals her new powers to Miss Honey, who confides that after her wealthy father, Dr Magnus Honey, suspiciously died, she was raised by an abusive aunt, revealed to be Miss Trunchbull. Trunchbull appears (among other misdeeds) to be withholding her niece's inheritance, as Miss Honey has to live in poverty in a derelict farm cottage, and her 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 practises her telekinesis at home. Later, during a sadistic lesson that Miss Trunchbull is teaching, Matilda telekinetically raises a piece of chalk to the blackboard and begins to use it to write, posing as the spirit of "Magnus". Addressing Miss Trunchbull using her first name, "Magnus" demands that Miss Trunchbull hand over Miss Honey's house and wages and leave the school, causing Miss Trunchbull to faint.
The next day, the school's deputy headmaster, Mr Trilby, visits Trunchbull's house and finds it empty, except for signs of Trunchbull's hasty exit. She is never seen again, and the house and property are finally and rightfully returned to Miss Honey. Trilby becomes the new headmaster, proving himself to be capable and good-natured, overwhelmingly improving the school's atmosphere and curriculum, and quickly moving Matilda into the top-form class with the 11-year-olds. Rather to Matilda's relief, she soon is no longer capable of telekinesis. Miss Honey theorises this is because Matilda is using her brainpower on a more challenging curriculum, leaving less of her brain's energy free, unlike earlier when she was not in a high year, where she had her brainpower free for psychokinesis.
Matilda continues to visit Miss Honey at her house regularly, returning home one day to find her parents and her older brother Michael hastily packing to leave for Spain. Miss Honey explains this is because the police found out Mr Wormwood has been selling stolen cars. Matilda asks permission to live with Miss Honey, to which her parents rather distractedly agree. Matilda and Miss Honey find their happy ending, as the Wormwoods drive away, never to be seen again.
Mr Wormwood was based on a real-life character from Roald Dahl's home village of Great Missenden in Buckinghamshire. The library in Great Missenden was the inspiration for Mrs Phelps's library, where Matilda devours classic literature by the age of four and three months.
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 a box office bomb, 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.
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. 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. 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. One critic called it "the best British musical since Billy Elliot".
The actress Kate Winslet provides the English-language audiobook recording of Matilda. In 2014, the American Library Association shortlisted her for an Odyssey Award for her audiobook performance.
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.
Connections to other Roald Dahl books
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. 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.
Matilda at 30
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. 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."
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