Up until very recently, I have spent the entirety of my twenty-year existence with no knowledge of the wonderful brilliance that is Roald Dahl’s Matilda. Though I had been recommended it countless times by enthusiastic readers and had seen the charming advertisements for the movie adaptation, I had never managed to actually sit down and read the book itself. Last summer I made several valiant efforts to check it out of my local library, but to no avail; other patrons (presumably much younger than I) always beat me to it. Determined to beat the summer reading rushed, I hurried over to the children’s room of the library early on in my summer break this year to finally check it out once and for all.
After literal decades of waiting, I read Matilda in a single sitting.
I loved it.
Now I understand why so many people eagerly recommended this lovely little book to me, why it continues to be read by adult readers who have long since outgrown the tiny chairs in the children’s rooms of libraries. Though Matilda has an established position in the genre of children’s literature, it almost seems as if Roald Dahl wrote this book with an adult audience in mind as well. Matilda is so wise beyond her years that it sometimes feels like she is an adult—especially when faced with the temperamental, ignorant, cruel Miss Trunchbull. The four-year-old girl offers helpful advice to Miss Honey, has intellectual capabilities that surpass those of most adults, and possesses enough resilience in the face of adversity to last her a lifetime. Ultimately, this book argues for the idea of immaturity v. maturity rather than the conflict between children v. adults. In other words, Roald Dahl would likely not view the word “childish” as a synonym for being immature. Just because someone is older doesn’t mean they possess a certain degree of maturity, empathy, or common sense (as many recent events in our own world have certainly proven true).
While reading this book I was taken aback by how many references there are to classic literature. I don’t think I’ve ever read a children’s book that talks so much about literature that one would normally read in high school, college, or beyond. Matilda reads Great Expectations by Charles Dickens, Jane Eyre by Charlotte Bronte, Kim by Rudyard Kipling, The Invisible Man by H.G. Wells—the list goes on and on! (New goal: read all of the novels mentioned in Matilda.) One of my favorite moments in the book is when it describes little Matilda balancing a huge tome on her lap while reading in the library. I think that image really helps illustrate how brilliant and ahead of her age Matilda is (not to mention the fact that the illustrations in this book are adorable). The numerous references to classic literature in this book also work to break down genre barriers between what is considered literature for children versus that of adults.
Arguably one of the most important, interesting, and exciting aspects of Matilda is the way it emphasizes the importance of reading, learning, and education. Miss Honey is an incredible proponent of education, as shown when she provides Matilda with extra textbooks to read in class so she doesn’t have to sit through learning material she already knows. Matilda and Miss Honey stand up to Matilda’s frustratingly terrible parents who don’t understand why anyone would ever want to read a book when you could just watch the television instead. I really wish I had read this book when I was younger because I think Matilda’s character would have really resonated with me. Younger Holly would have been thrilled to read about a bookworm like myself who triumphed over obstacles against all odds. Matilda is such an important character for children to read about, both as a bookish hero as well as a strong, clever, independent female character.
What can I say? Matilda is wonderful, Roald Dahl is a brilliant writer, and I’m completely in love with this book. If you haven’t read this book yet, please do yourself a favor and check it out—you definitely won’t regret it!
Would I recommend it to a friend?: Absolutely!! I would recommend this book to anyone and everyone, no matter your age.
What are your thoughts on Matilda? Do you have a favorite Roald Dahl book? Which Roald Dahl book should I read next? Let me know in the comments section below!