If you were a kid growing up in Britain in the late 80s/early 90s, you almost certainly read a lot of Roald Dahl‚Äôs children‚Äôs stories. I can‚Äôt think of anyone who didn‚Äôt like at least one of his stories, let alone never read them. His stories and characters were imaginative, completely bonkers and show that he had an innate understanding of children, both their joys and their dark sides. Dahl‚Äôs stories never shied away from bad things – children were mistreated, sometimes appallingly, by the adults in their lives, but they always found a way to strike back.
Many of us probably forget as we get older what it was like to be a child and to be so under our parents control – Dahl never did. Many of his characters are trapped in desperate circumstances – poverty, abusive parents/guardians, even evil creatures such as witches – and yet they all find ways to fight back and win.
Perhaps the ultimate example of this was Matilda, a heroine for every small bookish girl who‚Äôs ever existed. Matilda Wormwood is an extremely clever girl – so clever in fact that by the age of four she has read all the children‚Äôs books in her local library. When she starts school a year later, she had read Ernest Hemingway and Rudyard Kipling and shows exceptional talents in maths and composing limericks.
What makes Matilda so compelling to me however, isn‚Äôt her intelligence, but rather her a strong sense of justice. Her parents are cruel and neglectful to her and, realising that while they may have a great deal of power over her, she has the upper hand in the brains department. So she begins to strike back in small but satisfying ways. As her talents increase, she is able to get back at the worst adult of all – the child-hating headmistress, Miss Trunchbull.
I think any bookworm who reads Matilda will identify with her love of reading, her passion for knowledge, and maybe even the closeness she feels with her teacher Miss Honey (who is basically the only positive adult figure in the book). But what really makes Matilda stand out for me is her kindness, her mischievous nature and her outrage at the many injustices both she and her peers face at the hands of grown ups.
She was an inspirational heroine when I first read the book as a child, and remains so today with her combination of cleverness and compassion. She reminds us all that even though we may be small and trodden upon, we have within us a power to rise up and change our circumstances, and even a world. It‚Äôs a message that I think still needs to be heard, in particular by young girls.
Matilda was originally published nearly 30 years ago in 1988 but it‚Äôs proving to be a timeless story. As well as the 1996 cult film adaptation starring Danny DeVito and Mara Wilson, there has also been a musical adaption of the book by the Royal Shakespeare Company, with music and lyrics by Tim Minchin. You can watch a performance of one of the songs here.
You can find out more about Matilda at RoaldDahl.com.
Girl Museum Inc.