Rereading Matilda 30 years on
“There began to creep over Matilda a most extraordinary and peculiar feeling…a kind of electricity…”
I was 23 years old when Matilda was first published and therefore deprived of discovering its inspirational protagonist at an age when she would have had the greatest impact on my life. Like her, I was a bookish child who learned to read long before my contemporaries – although, unlike Matilda Wormwood, I cannot claim to have devoured Great Expectations, The Sound and the Fury and Tess of the D’Urbervilles by the age of four.
I did, however, read and thoroughly relish Roald Dahl’s novel almost as soon as it went on sale in my local branch of WH Smith’s, which, it now transpires, is exactly 30 years old this month. It’s almost that long since I last glanced inside its covers, so a reread was long overdue.
“If you get on the wrong side of Miss Trunchbull she can liquidise you like a carrot in a kitchen blender.”
Opening my battered copy of Matilda, I found myself audibly chuckling, chiding and cheering in all the same places. Dahl’s characters still delight. There’s the girl’s dreadful spiv of a father and her atrocious Diana Dors aping mother, neither of whom give a hoot about their gifted daughter and would rather watch the telly than read a book. Then there’s the compassionate and discreet librarian, Mrs Phelps, who is “filled with wonder and excitement” by Matilda’s advanced abilities and introduces her to a “formidable” selection of titles. There’s everyone’s favourite grown-up: Matilda’s teacher, Miss Jennifer Honey, with her “madonna face” and “rare gift for being adored by every small child under her care.” Finally, who could ever forget Miss Trunchbull, the brutish headmistress at Crunchem Hall Primary School, with her “massive thighs”, “extraordinary breeches” and penchant for grabbing small children by the ears and hurling them through windows?
Add to all this Dahl’s witty wordplay and his wicked sense of humour, combine Quentin Blake’s iconic illustrations, and the story of a plucky little girl with both brains and bottle becomes an enduring and widely loved children’s classic with global sales of over 17 million.
Matilda at 30
“It has been very special to revisit her all these years later and marvel at the woman she would have become.”
Three decades on and 28 years after the death of Roald Dahl, Quentin Blake has imagined the heroine as she might be today in three uniquely jacketed collector’s editions of the book. The publishers hope those who enjoyed reading Matilda in their youth will purchase the story again as adults, choosing the cover that matches their view of the modern Matilda.
In a foreword to Matilda at 30, Blake, now 85, reveals he had “fun imagining what that little girl might be doing now she’s all grown up.” Since, as a child, she was gifted in so many ways, he has visualized her succeeding in a variety of fields, from Chief Executive of the British Library, to Astrophysicist, to World Traveller. “I imagined that for each version of our grown-up Matilda one of her extraordinary talents and achievements would have come to the fore and shown her a role in life,” he writes.
Always an aspirational character and way ahead of her time, Matilda was spirited, she believed in herself and stood up to bullies. In a genre that continues to be dominated by male characters, she remains as relevant today as ever.
Many thanks to Puffin for providing an advance review copy of this title.
Matilda was one of my least favourite of the Dahl books when I was younger (I was very like Matilda, thankfully minus the horrible family, and this led to me resenting her!) However, I loved the musical when I saw it in Sunderland last year and how subversive it is about school. I should probably re-read the book as well.
No, my family weren’t anything like Matilda’s, but I can recall a few frightful teachers. I must make an effort to see the musical, it looks like fun.
From Borges straight to Dahl, whilst apparently revealing your age (I do worry that this blog is in danger of becoming a slightly risky venture)- however, I wonder if there is anything in common with the books you liked best when you were precocious and the texts you admire the most now?
I know, I know… My choice of books has always been ridiculously muddled. I don’t worry about hiding my age – I rather like being in my 50s (far less stressful than my 20s). However, I’ve no idea what my childhood books would tell you about the choices I make today, but I always adored the Moomins, Alice in Wonderland and the Diary of Anne Frank! 🤔
Paula- you do know that’s not what I meant (I think you might read comments quickly(I do that too) )- I don’t use Facebook any more in part because it finds out too much about people. It didn’t take the hiring of Nick Clegg by Facebook to make me dislike the intrusive platform. Your choice of books is simply eclectic. I meant something along the lines of I know someone who liked Jane Eyre when they were young & they “graduated” to liking Doris Lessing- in other words they developed a fascination with strong female characters as a child & this fed their evolving brand of ‘feminism’ when they were mature. Best wishes from the Cheepster.
How lovely! Matilda was one of my favourite Dahl books.
Thank you, Madame B. I also enjoyed his short fiction for adults. I seldom missed an episode of Tales of the Unexpected when it aired on TV – some episodes were gloriously chilling!
Happy and fond memories, thanks for the trip. 😀
I know what you mean, Alexandra. It’s difficult to think of Matilda without smiling.
I remember the film so vividly, but I have no memories of ever reading the book. I know I have read several Dahl books though. “The Witches” being my favorite. I may have to see if my library has a copy of it. So shocked I don’t remember reading it.
It happens, Cassie. Perhaps you didn’t read the book and that’s why you can only recall the film! 😂
This is wonderful Paula!! Thank you so much for bringing my attention to this, I’m going to buy a copy for my sister, she’s the biggest Matilda fan! 😍
You’re very welcome, Beth. Thank you! 😊
I can’t believe it has been 30 years. An awesome book from a great author.
I know, Carla, where have the years gone? 😲
Excellent review and quite the reflection.
Thank you so much!
OMG!!! Matilda at 30 sounds so amazing! And now I want to buy all three editions! My poor wallet. Sigh! 😀
You’ve got to admit, it’s clever marketing – but I suppose it’s like buying three different artworks, so a nice idea! 😄
Yes, some stunning artworks at that! I hope they won’t make a habit out of this! lol! 😉
Perhaps at 60! 😂
Dahl’s books were not on my shelves when I was young, but I read them from the library, which had only a few titles and not Matilda. I’ve only leafed through ad admired the bookish bits. Over the summer, however, I did reread Charlie and the Chocolate Factory, one which my friend had and which I later found at another library when I was a little older, and it was great reading as an adult on a hot summer afternoon or two. Perhaps I will go looking for Matilda next summer. The idea of “updating” her is fun!
Yes, I should think reading Matilda with a nice glass of wine while sitting in the sunshine is most civilized! 😊
Thanks for that. İ haven’t read it, but might try it with my daughter – one of life’s greatest pleasures, reading to/with her 🙂
It’s wonderful that you read with your daughter – that memory will stay with her forever. Matilda is an excellent choice.
Used to be one of my favorite books to read aloud to 4th and 5th graders.
I bet your pupils loved your lessons, Josie. 😊
Some did. Some didn’t. But most kids enjoy being read to and an expressive reader alouder can really get into “Matilda”.