Monday, 25 September 2017

Matilda by Roald Dahl

"Miss Honey was still hugging the tiny girl in her arms and neither of them said a word as they stood there watching the big black car tearing round the corner at the end of the road and disappearing for ever into the distance"

As soon as I read the last sentence, Eddie said dreamily "Good story!" And he also pondered: "I would like to know what would have happened if the parents said No".

Roald Dahl is considered to be one of the giants of children's literature. His works have reached an iconic status in this country, with school days dedicated to his literary world.
I cannot remember reading Dahl's books as a child, if I have, they clearly haven't left a profound memory like books by Astrid Lindgren, Tove Jansson, P.L.Travers, Lewis Carroll and many others.

Eddie and I spend most evenings reading together - books ranging from modern fiction to old classics, and just recently we turned to Roald Dahl. They had several lessons at school, studying Quentin Blake's artwork and reading short pieces from Dahl's books.

I had no preconceptions at all regarding Matilda. I've never read it before or watched the film.
This is the second Dahl's book which I read to my son.

There is no arguing that Dahl's writing style is unique. He is a superb wordsmith, and can tell a riveting story. But what a sad and miserable world he has created.
His villains are completely unbelievable. I was discussing it with a friend, and she said "But how different it is from Brothers Grimm' stories, which are also gory, dramatic and scary. I think the difference is that their stories are openly fairy tales.

There are of course despicable nasty parents in real life who detest and neglect their offspring, but Matilda's parents - a crook father and a gold-digger mother - seem to be particularly disgusting. There is not a single redeeming feature in their parenting.

Miss Trunchbull is another arch-villain, a female Moriarty who keeps the whole school under her thumb, from children to personnel. Nobody dares to challenge her (Miss Honey's mild protestations at her headmistress's child abuse do not really count, she didn't call social services or police, she didn't even try to snatch poor children out of the evil woman's grasp).

She could throw a child out of the window and nobody bats a lid. She tortures children by lifting them up by their ears or hair, she uses the most disgusting language when addressing them, and again, the grown-ups don't protect children. Her villainness is exaggerated - to justify the revenge which would follow later. She's not even one-dimensional, more like half-dimensional if that is possible.

I was reading the book to Eddie and commented, that I found it very unpleasant to read. I'm trying to pinpoint just why I found this book so uncomfortable to read. Probably because I don't find a theme of child abuse entertaining.
It also made me think that Roald Dahl didn't like people very much.

Even Matilda is not exactly a role model. She is a wunderkind who taught herself to read and do maths (how is that even possible without someone teaching you the basics?!).

She gets her kicks from taking revenge on her horrid family and atrocious headmistress. You can say they deserved it. But for a child of that age, she surely is vindictive and unkind.
Do you remember that episode where she puts a caged parrot up in the chimney overnight?! Did she feel sorry for the parrot's ordeal? Did she heck. She rejoiced in scaring her parents.
Or adding undiluted peroxide to her father's hair tonic. How is that funny? It can cause deep burns.

You cannot dispute Dahl's talent as a writer, it's the characters and plots I have issues with.

I'm prepared to be flamed for disliking this children's classic, but it gave me a mental indigestion.
Eddie, on the other hand, found it fascinating and now wants me to read Witches to him.


  1. It's always interesting rereading childhood classics and fairy tales from a parent's perspective - all the fairy tales with parents abandoning their kids in the woods when money gets tight are pretty evil too !

    1. Eddie always asks me: Where are the parents? Why are children alone at home in the evening? etc when we read stories like that, or watch scary films. :)