AUTHOR: Roald Dahl
PUBLISHED: 1988 (Originally, my verson, i dunno, but they’re the same)
FORMAT: illegal eBook*
So, it may be cheating to pick a book that I’ve read no less than 100 times, but I’m okay with it. The first time I read <em>Matilda</em>, I was probably 10, and Roald was probably already gone from this world, which makes me sad. As voracious a reader as I am, I never even had a concept of telling him such, and it’s too late. But that is a tangent, so let me attempt to stay on track. On a mostly related side note, I once had a streak of reading this book so much that the librarian outright denied me the ability to check it out and started funneling me other books as soon as they were made a part of the library’s system. (The Jenny Archer series comes to mind…) She ordered me to buy my own copy, which I did, and that did not deter me. I liked – and still do – the feel of a hardback book that has been given the library treatment, cover coated, taped to the book, etc. There was something special about the crinkle of the paper in my hands. My local Waldenbooks didn’t have a hardback, so I settled for a paperback copy. I was sorely disappointed.
Matilda Wormwood is a young girl who is totally ignored by her family and brilliant despite it all. She’s also a bit mischevious and sweet and awesome and everything else. I always related a little to her (I was the only one in kindergarten who could read going in, although I wasn’t quite at the Dickens level). And I just genuinely liked the characters in the book. In her story, she deals with the crap in her world the best she can and gets exactly what she needs in the end.
This time through, I decided to ask myself why I liked the story so much, and I realized just how brilliant Roald Dahl is, and just how awesome British society twenty-five years ago was. For starters, the book is obnoxious and rude and mean and everything else – child after child gets outright abused by the headmistress. She calls them foul, she tells them how they’re the boils on the buttocks of the world, she tells them they’re stupid and useless and everything else. And then she grabs them by the hair or the ears or the whatever and flings them about.
I’m not saying I like an obnoxious and rude character – we’re not supposed to like Miss Trunchbull – but I liked that the characters aren’t dumbed down or sugar coated or whatever. I don’t think this book would have flown past the censors today.
And I liked that the language isn’t stupid and rhymey and stilted. I can name entire series’ of books that are so dumbed down for readers that the author refused to use contractions. This book, though…. at some point in the story, Matilda and the librarian are talking about reading and not understanding everything. The librarian gives the best gem of advice – let the words wash around you like music. And that’s good advice for the readers too. I don’t think that anything is going to be over the heads of your average eight year old, but if you don’t get it, just enjoy the ride.
That’s probably why this book has stood up so well. There are plenty of children’s or mid grades books that I loved that if I read today, I’d be like “oh, that was a great trip down memory lane… ” but I wouldn’t care much for the book anymore. But this book… I pick it up yearly at least – and mostly, it’s not for the nostalgia. it’s because I genuinely love the story and want to read it again. And I think it’s pretty telling that the story works just as well for me as an adult as it did for me as a kid so many years ago.
I know this is a shocker, but 5/5.
*Earlier tonight, I searched online for a free eBook copy of Matilda, because I wanted to reference something. I’m pretty sure (like totally) that it was an illegal eBook. Before you get on me about it, the only reason I did it was because I was too lazy to move my laptop, stand up, walk from the living room, down the hallway, into the computer room/guest room/library and find one of at least three copies that I own. The paperback and hardback of this book are all the same unless a special edition. Trust me on this; I’m the closest thing to an expert since Roald himself.