This week I am having a look back at the books from my childhood that have had a lasting effect on me. Here are 3 reasons there is a Matilda-shaped space in my heart.
3. We all need that kind of magic in our lives
No matter our name, race or class, the one thing that reaches out to us all on a universal scale is fiction and, as a part of that, literature. The mere fact that one medium can overcome so many factors which frequently divide us is magical, and no matter who we are, we can all be better off because of it.
Matilda gives us literal and figurative magic and it is a beautiful modern classic in every way. Nearly 30 years after it first hit our shelves (1988) this book is still as current as ever and is present on the bookshelves of many young children. Along with the popular film adaptation of 1996, you’d be hard pushed to find anybody who has not been touched by Matilda in one way or another.
In recent years the magic of Matilda has spread to London’s West End and across the pond to Broadway. Adapted into a musical that shows 8 times a week, Matilda has proved a popular stagey favourite as well as a hit in its previous formats. The score is moving, brilliant and totally apt for such a beautiful story.
Now reaching a range of audiences across the globe in various different ways, I will be forever thankful to Roald Dahl for gifting us this heart-warming tale of the importance of reading and the joy we can find within that.
2 Dahl teaches us that intelligence is never a bad thing – and reading comes as part of that
Now I don’t know about anyone else, but growing up I took my fair share of playground taunts. I like to tell myself that it wasn’t bullying because I never really let it bother me, but as an abnormally short, but loud, redhead I was somewhat of a beacon for comments and verbal abuse. I still am really, except nowadays it’s complete strangers I have never met that deem it appropriate to make comments on public transport such as “you’re a pretty girl, it’s just a shame about the hair colour.” I digress, but imagine that whilst putting on a British show of a ‘stiff upper lip’ people then start poking fun at the only things that you have always been able to rely on; your brains and your imagination.
For as long as I can remember reading has been my form of escapism to get away to a better world than the one we find ourselves in. When I first read Matilda I could relate to her so strongly it was painful. I was that child with above average intelligence for her age (not on the level of the littlest Wormwood’s brilliance but you get the drift). I could count my friends on one hand because I was far happier with my fictional friends between the pages of my already budding library. I spent far too much time with my grandparents and various librarians because they were the only people I could have an intelligent conversation with. That was me. That was Matilda. I felt like Matilda, only in a house with a loving family.
Then throughout this book the singular resounding message was that intelligence was never something to be scoffed at. Your brains could take you places, get you out of sticky situations – the complete opposite of what playground bullies liked to make you believe. The label of a bookworm is not one to bat down, but a label you can wear with pride because your life will be just that little bit more magical with the addition of books and imagination. We see a neglected little girl flourish under the watchful eye of someone who appreciates her for what she is. Someone who recognises and pushes her intelligence without ever once placing her on a pedestal she will no doubt tumble from in later years. It’s perfect and, although not necessarily realistic, it gives us hope – and hope is one of the most important things in the world.
1 We all secretly want to be Matilda
Hands up if reading/watching Matilda as a child is the reason you spent hours of your life staring at door handles or books on shelves across the room just willing them to move.
You can’t deny it. We all did it. Roald Dahl achieved something in Matilda far beyond writing a brilliant story that generations of children want to enjoy. We don’t just want to read the story we want to be the story. We want to be an intelligent, magical little bookworm who is grown to be loved and accepted for being just that.
Roald Dahl, thank you for making me want to be me.