Book #23: A childhood classic

Fast facts:

Book title: Matilda

Author: Roald Dahl

Genre/Audience: Fiction; children

Rating: 8/10

Worth the read?: Yes! And please also enjoy the 1996 film adaptation directed by Danny DeVito!

I have been excited to share my review of Matilda all stinkin’ day!

For starters, the movie version of this story was absolutely formative and vital to my childhood days. I cannot count how many times my family took in this film, nor how many times I watched it on my own. I really want to watch it now that I’ve finished the book, but it seems our DVD copy has gone missing.

As a result of my extensive knowledge of the movie, reading the book was an unusual experience. From page one, I was anticipating every bit of action to come. But as the book progressed, it became clear that there was no way Roald Dahl could have fit every detail used in the movie into such a short book. I came to view the book as if it were a condensed children’s version of the more grown-up movie. Often, this can be a really dangerous thing to do to a text—after all, the book came first and everything else isn’t really canon. But for a story like Matilda, I didn’t feel like I was committing too great a sin against the book to view things through this lens. Really, if anything, reading the book made me appreciate how well-done the movie was. (To be clear, if anyone so chooses to disagree with me about the movie: I am prepared to fight you!)

The book was a delight to read, and my particular copy featured tons of wonderful illustrations that, to me, captured the story quite well.

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I am really glad that I decided to make Matilda my first post-classics read—it was lighthearted, fun, and such a quick read. Also, I wish that more books had illustrations. Why don’t grown-up books have pictures? I vote that we the readers lobby for this change. We deserve visuals!

Now, as wonderful as the story is, I think my rating of the book might actually be lower if I hadn’t seen the movie first/so many times. I understand that as a children’s novel there is no way that the story could include every scene from the film. That said, the filmmakers hit on some important details that Dahl just kind of throws out and then abandons.

The most clear example is that, just as in the film, a fellow student tells Matilda and Lavender about “The Chokey.” In the book, this is the end of the conversation about The Chokey, and it’s only real purpose is to further support for the reader that Ms. Trunchbull is actually awful. Of course, it may have ventured into “not a children’s book” territory had there actually been a written scene involving this terrible contraption, but still…it was so amazing to me that the book never included it beyond this mention.

Additionally, I really appreciate the suspenseful scene in the movie when Matilda breaks into the Trunchbull’s house. I was bummed when I realized that there was no way it’d be in the book. The plot line involving Miss Honey’s childhood doll was so sweet, but again, I’m superimposing artistic license that came about after the book was written.

My only other critique is that Miss Honey’s character in the book is overwhelmingly cheesy. Her dialogue is too sweet, too amazed by Matilda, and too much “I know the answers to all of your problems, Matilda, and yet I cannot solve my own.” (That last one is a little exaggerated on my part.) The only way that I can really put words to it is to say that Dahl wrote Miss Honey’s character quite on the nose, and as a result she reads unbelievably at times. When Matilda tells her she has lost her powers (spoiler?), Miss Honey replies with a very clear explanation as to why…but like, no, Miss Honey, you don’t know why. You have no clue. Also your explanation was dumb.

I say all of this while remembering in the back of my mind that this is a children’s book. My analysis certainly demands things of the story that aren’t fitting for the level of readership that Dahl was going for, but nonetheless, I say them.

In the end, what a great, joyous little read. Until next time, friends!

Happy reading!