Note: This post contains affiliate links where any sales derived from it I earn a small commission.
Author: Roald Dahl
Genre: Children’s, Fantasy
For this months review, I will be taking a look at the classic children’s story by Roald Dahl, Matilda, which I’ve read as part of a challenge on Pinterest I saw to read a selection of short classic novels.
Matilda was one of the novels which I had heard about as a child but never actually got round to reading it (in fact looking in this book with the listings of Roald Dahl novels I didn’t actually read that many of them as a child with the only ones I can remember reading are Charlie and the Chocolate Factory and George’s Marvellous Medicine so I hope to make up for lost time now).
Matilda Wormwood is an exceptionally bright five year old girl whose parents do not really care about her – her dad is a dodgy car salesman and he is more interested in getting her brother involved in the family business than anything she does, whereas her mother is more concerned with going to the bingo and not looking after her. Matilda goes to the local library and reads the entire children’s selection in her library as well as adult classic novels such as Great Expectations and Jane Eyre.
As her father ignores and berates her, Matilda resorts to pranks to avoid getting frustrated e.g. she glues his hat to his head, she bleaches his hair blonde and sticks a parrot up the living room chimney to make him think there’s a ghost.
Matilda later starts school and is placed in the bottom form. However, her teacher Miss Honey picks up her amazing abilities and tries to get her moved into the top set. However, the headmistress, Miss Trunchbull is an evil tyrant who bullies teachers and students alike and refuses. Miss Honey then tries to go to her parents house and tries to explain to them how clever she is but they ignore her and kick her out. Miss Honey however tries to compensate by giving Matilda text books with harder work to look at in her classes.
In the meantime Miss Trunchbull’s behaviour gets worse at the school, she swings a girl around by the hair and throws her for wearing pigtails and forces a boy named Bruce to eat an entire 18″ cake in front of the entire class after he is caught stealing a slice of cake. She hopes to make him sick but when he actually finishes the cake she in a rage smashes the cake platter on his head.
Each week Miss Trunchbull visits all the classes for one lesson and Matilda’s friend Lavender decides to teach her a lesson by putting a newt in her drinking water. When Miss Trunchbull discovers it she accuses Matilda of pulling the prank. In anger, Matilda suddenly realises the power of telekinesis and is able to tip the water over Miss Trunchbull. Again Miss Trunchbull tries to accuse Matilda but as everyone in the class saw she didn’t leave her seat Miss Trunchbull storms out.
After the lesson, Matilda confesses to Miss Honey what she did and Miss Honey decides to take her back to her house to practice her skills. Matilda is stunned when she arrives at Miss Honey’s house and finds it practically spartan. She learns Miss Honey’s story – she is the daughter of a wealthy doctor who died in mysterious circumstances and is also Miss Trunchbull’s niece who after her dad dies was abusive towards her. She also claimed Miss Honey’s inheritance for herself and since she became a teacher has forced her salary to go into her own bank account with only £1 pocket money for Miss Honey. Matilda decides to use her powers for revenge for Miss Honey.
During another of Miss Trunchbull’s sadistic lessons, Matilda uses the power of telekinesis again to control a chalk and write on the chalkboard as “Magnus”, Miss Honey’s father, saying he knows what she did and demands she hands over Miss Honey’s inheritance and salary. In fright, Miss Trunchbull faints and later disappears with the inheritance and salary being transferred back to Miss Honey. The deputy headmaster, Mr Trilby takes over as headmaster and moves Matilda into the top set though Matilda now finds she has lost her powers of telekinesis due to her brain being more engaged in school work.
Finally the law catches up with her father who wants to go on the run to Spain, Matilda runs back to Miss Honey’s house and asks her if she can stay with her. The both go back to her parents house and they agree as the book draws to a close.
Matilda is another fun and entertaining novel by Roald Dahl. The protagonist Matilda is a very likable character who we can all root for in the novel. She is grossly misunderstood by her parents and peers which as readers I think everyone can relate to some part of ourselves not being understood by the people around us. She also has a great deal of resourcefulness by decided to essentially educate herself at the local library. It is also hilarious and quite gratifying to read as she takes her revenge on her parents in the opening chapters.
Then there is of course the evil protagonist Miss Trunchbull who is so tyrannical and horrendous that most readers will find themselves in disbelief at what she is able to get away with, which also again makes Matilda’s revenge very satisfying. I was actually also surprised this novel was written in the 1980s given what she does as it makes the novel seem older. Her character is also written in stark contrast to Miss Honey who cares for the children and wants to see them do the best they can, whereas Miss Trunchbull wants to bully and humiliate them into submission.
At the time Dahl wrote this novel, caning had only recently been made illegal in state schools by the UK Parliament in 1986 so I also think this contrast in schoolteachers may also have been a reflection on the legal changes going on in schools at that time and reflects an old and new guard in teaching.
I was also surprised in reading the novel that, in a similar way to Charlie and the Chocolate Factory, the book does actually have some very adult themes underneath the story. Matilda encounters a great deal of berating and ignorance from her parents, much of it is rooted in sexism as her father doesn’t think a girl can run a business and her mother says “brainy-ness” is undesirable in a girl.
Next, there are also quite a few themes present in the relationship between Miss Trunchbull and Miss Honey, with Miss Trunchbull being financially abusive towards Miss Honey and controlling her life following the death of her father. She also shows the greed people can get from inheritance by stealing from Miss Honey what is rightfully hers. Similarly, Matilda reacts with rage and pulls pranks due to her being ignored and her parents trying to control her life by trying to stamp out her natural brightness.
There is also themes of family, love and loyalty that come out throughout the novel. Matilda finds a kindred spirit in Miss Honey and develops a lot of love and respect for her, to the point that Miss Honey adopts her as her own which also shows that family and love can come even if there is no blood relation. Miss Honey also demonstrates a great deal of loyalty to Matilda by not revealing her powers to Miss Trunchbull. Also when Lavender pranks Miss Trunchbull, Matilda doesn’t tell on her when she is accused which also demonstrates love and loyalty within friendships as well.
Overall I really enjoyed this read as another entertaining novel by Road Dahl which I would highly recommend.
If you would like to purchase this book, then you can do so here.