Matilda (novel)

Matilda (novel)
1st UK edition
Author(s) Roald Dahl
Original title Matilda
Illustrator Quentin Blake
Country United Kingdom
Language English
Genre(s) Fantasy
Publisher Jonathan Cape (British hardback edition), & Puffin Books (Paperback edition in Britain and the US)
Publication date 1988
Media type Print (Hardback and Paperback)
Pages 240
ISBN 0-224-02572-4
OCLC Number 21077870
Dewey Decimal [Fic] 20
LC Classification PZ7.D1515 Mat 1988b
Preceded by The Giraffe and the Pelly and Me
Followed by Esio Trot

Matilda is a children's novel by British author Roald Dahl. It was published in 1988 by Jonathan Cape in London, with illustrations by Quentin Blake. The story is about Matilda Wormwood, an extraordinary child with ordinary and rather unpleasant parents, who are contemptuous of their daughter's prodigious talents. Matilda was adapted into a film in 1996, a two-part adaptation for BBC Radio 4 (later re-broadcast on BBC Radio 4 Extra) starring Nicola McAuliffe as Matilda and narrated by Lenny Henry and a musical in 2010.[1][2]



The parents of the five-year-old Matilda Wormwood have no interest in their daughter, but if they did, they would have discovered that she is incredibly gifted. A child prodigy, Matilda taught herself to read at three years old, though the only actual books in the house were a cookbook and magazines. When she asks for a real book for herself, her father rudely turns her down and tells her to watch television instead. In spite of this, Matilda looks up the address of the local library, where she finishes all the children's books within a short time, thus leaving her to read adult novels, which she really enjoys. The librarian gives Matilda her own library card, and she is able to borrow books to read at home.[3]

Mr. Wormwood sells used cars for a living, and tells Matilda and her brother Michael about how he makes a handsome profit by cheating customers out of their money in ingenious ways (such as putting sawdust in the transmission, rolling back the mileage on the odometer with an electric drill, and gluing back on bumpers that have fallen off). Matilda accuses him of being a crook though he shrugs it off and insults her. Matilda resolves to teach her parents a lesson every time they do something wrong, carrying out a variety of pranks.

Matilda's father sells a car to Miss Agatha Trunchbull, headmistress of Crunchem Hall Primary School. He arranges with her to have Matilda attend the school where she impresses her teacher Miss Jennifer "Jenny" Honey with her amazing intellectual capacity and mathematical ability.[3] Miss Honey appeals to Miss Trunchbull to have Matilda moved up into an advanced class, but the child-hating headmistress refuses. Miss Honey also tries, in vain, to reason with Mr and Mrs. Wormwood, but she is not welcomed, and both parents make it clear that they are not interested either in Matilda or the value of education and learning. Matilda quickly learns of the Trunchbull's capacity for punishing children, as she carries out cruelties for minor reasons. When Matilda's friend Lavender places a newt in the Trunchbull's glass of water, Matilda is blamed and the tyrant refuses to listen to her. Incensed by the injustice, Matilda soon discovers she has psychokinetic powers, as she focuses on the glass with her eyes, and surprises everyone by tipping it over right onto Miss Trunchbull.

Befriended by Miss Honey, Matilda later proves to her that she made the glass move. Miss Honey confides in Matilda that Miss Trunchbull is actually her aunt, who took over her father's home and abused her after her father, Magnus, supposedly killed himself. Miss Honey was able to escape, though is still as dominated by the Trunchbull's tyranny as the children at school are. Matilda intends to resolve this by working on her new found powers. Matilda "haunts" Miss Trunchbull's classroom as Magnus' ghost, focusing her eyes on the chalk, and writes a threatening message for the Trunchbull on the blackboard that tells her to give Miss Honey back her home and money and leave for good. A terrified Trunchbull does so, never to be seen by anyone again. Matilda visits Miss Honey in her new home often, but returns to her parents one afternoon to find them packing everything they have into the car, as the police have apparently discovered some of Mr. Wormwood's covert illegal activity and now the whole family is moving to Spain to escape the punishment. Miss Honey appears with Matilda and confronts the Wormwoods. Matilda begs her parents to let her stay with Miss Honey, which they do so without a second glance back at her (although her brother waves goodbye).

It is clear that Matilda will have a better life with Miss Honey. She eventually discovers that she cannot use her powers anymore and Miss Honey suggests that she only had her powers when she needed them, and now that she is happy she no longer needs them.

Differences between film and novel versions

The novel was adapted into a film in 1996, being directed by Danny DeVito. Some plot points are shortened or removed, while new details and action sequences are added:

  • In the film, Matilda goes to the library the morning after her father turns her down, but in the novel, she goes on the same day.
  • Miss Honey's poverty is not addressed; she lives fairly comfortably in her small cottage (although she acknowledges that she is only charged $50 a month in rent by her farmer landlord, an admission that perhaps implies that a higher rent would be impossible).
  • Matilda is locked in "The Chokey" while the device is only described briefly in the novel.
  • Matilda breaks into the Trunchbull Mansion twice. In the novel, she never enters the house.
  • The novel goes into much greater detail about the list of the classical works that Matilda reads. It also goes into detail on how advanced Matilda is.
  • The film takes place in the United States instead of the home counties of England as in the novel. A boy is thrown out the window for eating M&Ms in English class instead of liquorice allsorts during a Bible study class.
  • In the film, it is implied that there is a friendship between Matilda, Lavender, Hortensia, Bruce Bogtrotter, and Amanda Thripp. While Matilda and Lavender are friends in the novel, Matilda has no direct interaction with Bruce Bogtrotter and Amanda Thripp, and in Matilda and Lavender's only encounter with Hortensia, Hortensia insults them repeatedly and is a bully, while she is nice to Matilda and Lavender in the film.
  • Matilda's brother Michael was changed from a more or less normal boy to a bullying, fat idiot. Their mother shows some humanity by giving her daughter away because she's better suited for a life with Miss Honey; in the novel, however, both parents drop their daughter like a rock. Miss Trunchbull's violence to children is also slightly mitigated. When Miss Trunchbull hurls Amanda Thripp over the fence, she lands safely. In the novel, she lands flat on her face and is bruised.
  • Bruce Bogtrotter successfully eats an entire cake without throwing up; furious, Miss Trunchbull forces everyone to stay five extra hours after school and copy from the dictionary. In the novel, she commands them furiously to leave the assembly room.
  • Matilda does not practise with cereal and milk or a spoon in the novel, but with one of Mr. Wormwood's cigars, and never demonstrates the ability to move more than one object at a time while the film sees her controlling an entire room of objects in a miniature tornado. Also, the message on the board in the film is different from the one in the novel.
  • The most significant difference is that in the film Matilda's powers are treated more as a conventional superpower and less as a miracle. Her powers in the film start by her blowing up the Wormwoods' television set, while in the novel "the first miracle" is overturning a glass of water. In the film, Matilda eventually goes on to telekinetically control things at will whereas she doesn't do so in the novel. The film implies that Matilda's powers are the result of her accessing normally dormant portions of her brain, whereas the novel speculates that her powers come about as a result of her high intellect meaning that she has so much mental energy she has to release it through her eyes. The final confrontation between Matilda and Miss Trunchbull is extended in the film, in the novel, Miss Trunchbull immediately leaves in fear of Magnus' "ghost". Characters in the novel never lose their sense of awe and fear of Matilda's telepathic powers; in the film, characters seem unaffected by this. In the novel, Matilda loses her abilities afterward as a result of her being transferred to a higher class, causing her to expend the excess mental energy on her education as she now faces a more obvious challenge, while in the film she still uses them to move objects. Matilda does not have adoption papers in the novel, but her parents let her stay with Miss Honey.
  • At the end of the movie, the Wormwoods are moving to Guam.

Musical version

A musical version of the novel, Matilda: A Musical, written by Dennis Kelly and Tim Minchin and commissioned by the Royal Shakespeare Company, premiered in November 2010 and will open on the West End in mid 2011.[4][1] The stage version has been hailed by one critic as "the best British musical since Billy Elliot".[2]


The first draft of the novel introduced Matilda's character from the point of view of her parents, misleadingly portraying her as 'just plain rotten' to highlight the misplaced priorities of Mr and Mrs Wormwood. It has also been reported that the character of Miss Honey began as a well-intentioned alcoholic whose misdemeanors repeatedly had to be covered up by Matilda from the attentions of her headmistress. Likewise, the headmistress of the initial drafts was not a specifically villainous character.

Relations to other Roald Dahl books

  • One of Miss Trunchbull's means of punishments is forcibly to make an overweight boy by the name of Bruce Bogtrotter eat an enormous cake to try to make him sick after finding him guilty of stealing food from the kitchen (in many of Dahl's novels there is a rude character that is overweight, Augustus Gloop for example, though Bruce Bogtrotter is portrayed as more sympathetic and even becomes somewhat of a hero to the kids by actually managing to finish the cake). In Roald Dahl's Revolting Recipes one of the recipes is based on that cake.[5]

See also


  1. ^ a b Serena Alllot (26 Nov 2010) Waltzing Matilda: Dahl's classic dances on to the stage The Daily Telegraph
  2. ^ a b Once upon a time, there was a man who liked to make up stories ... The Independent (Sunday, 12 December 2010)
  3. ^ a b Christine Valters Paintner, Lucy Wynkoop (2008) Lectio Divina: Contemplative Awakening and Awareness Page 136
  4. ^ "RSC Sets Dates for Dahl’s Matilda Musical, 9 Nov". What' 2009-09-30.,+9+Nov.html. Retrieved 2010-04-07. 
  5. ^ Long, Dorothy. Revolting recipes. ASHE

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