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.