Next month, on 13 September 2016, 100 years since the birth of renown children’s author Roald Dahl is being celebrated. For my readers in Australia, Penguin is currently running a readathon contest to mark this momentous day. To go into the running for a weekend away to Brisbane to see Tim Minchin’s musical adaptation of Dahl’s book “Matilda”, you have to read at least 7 of Roald Dahl’s books by 13 September and answer the quizzes online. Challenge accepted.
As the prize is to see “Matilda”, and it’s one of my favourite of Dahl’s books, I thought I would start with that. “Matilda” is about a young and prodigious girl who is emotionally neglected by her rather awful parents. Left alone all day, she eventually discovers the library and entertains herself by reading more and more complex examples of English literature. When she eventually (and somewhat belatedly) starts school, she meets the wonderful teacher Miss Honey and the violent, abusive and unhinged principal known as the Trunchbull. Finding herself as marginalised and understimulated at school as she was at home, Matilda channels her anger and frustration and finds that she’s able to achieve the impossible.
Rereading “Matilda” as an adult was really quite delightful. It’s a timeless classic and Roald Dahl’s jokes still get a laugh out of me. At one point in the book, Matilda tells Miss Honey that her critique of the “Narnia” series by C. S. Lewis, “Lord of the Rings” by J. R. R. Tolkein and adult books in general is that there aren’t enough funny bits in them. I have to say, I’m inclined to agree. I really liked that the majority of the characters in this book were women. Matilda is a literary and mathmatical genius, her friend Lavender is very happy to go fishing for newts and the boil-nosed Hortensia is an expert pranker. I also really like how empowering this book is for children, and how Dahl really shines a light on ways adults can hurt children, directly or indirectly, and how other adults don’t always believe children when they disclose abuse. I think my only critique of this book is that I find that Dahl’s villians are almost always ugly or grotesque in some way. While it’s fun to laugh at the exaggerated features of bad guys, I think it’s important to learn that bad guys often just look like normal people.
“Matilda” is a book that will always hold a special place in my heart. Only a couple of Christmases ago my mum bought me a limited edition print of Quentin Blake’s illustration of Matilda reading in the library. As someone who was once a little girl who also spent all her time reading, Matilda was an important role model to me. She taught me that girls can be brilliant, girls can spend their time reading quietly, girls can be pranksters and girls can get their hands dirty. I know Matilda will keep inspiring children to stand up to bullies and, just importantly, to read.