Matilda, by Roald Dahl
Roald Dahl has always hung between the balance of the disturbing and the wonderful and with Matilda this is shown perfectly. His 1988 novel is simply a PG rated version of Stephen King’s Carrie, only with a lot more depth. Matilda is a neglected genius who lives with her thuggish parents and brother. As they leave her to fend for herself from a young age she discoveries the wonderful world of books. Gaining more and more intellect as the years go by she demands to go to school and lands a spot at Crunchem Hall, ruled by the horrid Miss Trunchball. As time goes by Matilda learns that her intellect is not only useful in exams but in life as she discovers her special power.
Matilda is, like all Roald Dahl’s work, good fun and what makes it fun is the bizarre school and eccentric head teacher who compares herself to Nicholas Nickelby’s Mr. Wackford Squeers. Although vaguely disturbing, Miss Trunchball’s methods range from swinging children by their hair, making a student eat an entire chocolate cake and locking them in her prison called ‘The Chokey’. Miss Trunchball is our villain – a greedy, wicked woman – but she’s not made as frightening as Roald Dahl’s witches because we are made to hate her, made to see her as foolish and as a thug. Roald Dahl throws us into the deep end with the crazy teacher and her horrible school but we are given that sense of hope with our heroine, Matilda.
Even though Matilda is a book of grotesque fun and a story of hope, it is also a book about something. Matilda is a book about the power of children and the wonder of books. Like all of his books Roald Dahl sides with the children, he sees their perspective and runs with it. Miss Trunchball is not to be feared but fought against. Mr and Mrs Wormwood, not to be liked but seen as ridiculous. The children are powerful because of their different view of the world. An adult would simply kill Miss Trunchball because of her abusive ways; the children decide to throw a newt on her. Matilda is firstly about the way children see the world and thus the power they have over the adults with their cluttered minds.
Matilda is secondly about books. Any reader loves books and Matilda relishes the prospect of reading anything and everything. Matilda could, to an extent, be seen as a book about books, it even contains a list of classics that Matilda has read. Dahl, therefore, encourages children to read everything, telling them to grasp as much knowledge as is thrown at them.
At the forefront, you have a book about a horrible school and an evil head teacher but deep down you have a book with good morals and bizarre ideas. Roald Dahl does it again – a magical book about the beauty of children’s minds, the freedom of books and happiness in the face of evil.