Matilda: Broadway Tie-In - Quentin Blake, Roald Dahl

"It was pleasant to take a hot drink up to her room and have it beside her as she sat in her silent room reading in the empty house in the afternoons."

 

Spoiler-Free Portion

I'm deviating from my usual... I don't know, way of doing this by starting out on this foot, but first I want to express my loathing for the cover art that I had to settle with when I bought this book - new! - for my Childrens' Lit class.  Why should I care about the new musical (MUSICAL?  WHY?) that someone has used to make money from off of Roald Dahl's work.  So why did you decide to re-release the book, minus Quentin Blake's unique work that is as memorable and goes together with Roald Dahl's work as much as Dr. Seuss' own writing is just as well known as his own art? 

 

How would you react if the cover of Green Eggs and Ham were to be similarly replaced with some shitty new thing that people are doing with the copyright?  Assholes.

 

There we go; this is Matilda!

 

And that's just about as angry as I can get with Matilda.   Oh how I love the titular character of this book; if I love a girl character more than her, it would have to be Hit Girl or Harriet.  Usually, I am not one for the subtle, passive sort of female characters.

 

My tastes usually run towards the little girls swinging swords around and shooting guys indiscriminately.

 

- but Matilda as a character manages to do it for me so well that when I am not imagining myself killing dudes and doing backward flips all over the fucking place, I can often just as easily imagine being a bright optimist whose real superpower is the ability to swallow books and retain all of their information like a supercomputer - nay, Matilda's brain is something that I wish could replace Google as my search engine, I really believe that after she grew up, her brain must be the most amazing font of information you could possibly imagine.

 

And, let's be real here - if I had to choose between being aerodynamic and generally fighty as all hell and being able to read at a completely unrealistic speed and retaining all of that information, if I could steal one of their powers, it would have to be Matilda's.

 

Grudgingly - I must admit that when it comes to killing dudes = mo' bodies, mo' problems

 

Matilda is not only incredibly smart, she is an amazing problem solver, thoughtful, as well as kind and brave in her own, fragile little way.  She's more comfortable in her own skin than I will ever hope to be - echoing Harriet the Spy, she's set on the learning of as much knowledge as she can, and she does not have any more time to reserve for The Pink Aisle than Harriet does. She stands up to others, thoughtlessly protecting what she believes in because it's just the right thing to do.

 

Did I mention that she's tiny?  She's downright diminutive.

 

 

Unlike Harriet, Matilda's problem in her youth is not one of identity - for a child, Matilda knows who she is intimately.  The main problem of her life is both her family, the Wormwoods and the Trunchbull, and what they symbolize in her - and people like her's - life.

 

 

 

 

In order - the problems that Matilda gets from most of the adults (and some children) in her life is the cruel indifference, cruelty and vengeful attitude of the people in her life (especially towards her hobby) who should be the most comforting and warm towards her, and then the openly cruel actions of the personification of the school system that she goes to for enlightenment and instead it ("she") provides Matilda with threats of physical violence and a complete refusal to provide all children with the knowledge/skills that they attend schools to receive.

 

Yeah, this book is far deeper than it seems at first blush.   And I'll make it simple for you now - 4/5 of this book is simply amazing, worthy of its status as a classic.  If I have a problem with this, part of it is due to my nit picking, and I still hold this book close to my heart.    If you have a child, this is one of the great books to offer to you child - buy this and give this to them now.

 

Spoilers

 

 

Matilda is sent to school after she goes through the first portion of her life having to be around only her family and the kindly librarian who watches her pursuit of her hobby with amazement and the first real encouragement that she gets for having a hobby - read: I will bring up that reading is a HOBBY later on, so pay attention - and she soon realizes that with the exception of the truly amazing teacher, Miss Honey, the school is no much more encouraging and enriching an experience as the home that she returns to.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Among the children, Matilda uncovers the sad truth that even kind, intelligent adults are vulnerable to exploitative adults who value threats of physical violence and obscene cruelty via Miss Honey, the sweet-natured teacher who is shocked by Matilda's obviously apparant level of intelligence, leading to them bonding.

 

 

 

The Headmistress of the school, the Trunchbull, does not only threaten and actually harm children. but she has managed to (it is implied) murder Miss Honey's beloved father when she was but a child and has managed to retain the home that Miss Honey should own, becoming the heaviest influence hanging over Miss Honey's life.

 

 

 

After discovering the sad home that Miss Honey lives in, Matilda decides to help her.  By rescuing both Miss Honey and the school from the crushing cruelty of the Trunchbull, Matilda earned first a close friend in Miss Honey, but also earned a new home with the teacher when the Wormwoods' luck finally runs out and they have to escape the country, allowing Matilda to become Miss Honey's adopted daughter for the HAPPIEST GODDAMNED ENDING IN LITERARY HISTORY MOTHERFUCKERS.

 

 

 

 

 

 

This is not the right picture I wanted to use, but I can't find that heart-rending last illustration of them hugging, so this will have to do.  I am not going to lie - this illustration is one of the most tear-jerking sights I have ever seen in a book.

 

 

 

Now, here's the problems -

 

 

 

- Reading is a hobby.  Arguably the greatest hobby, but nevertheless a hobby.  I have to defend this hobby of mine to other people, who, for some reason, think that reading is not "cool".  I don't have to defend this to you guys - I am singing to the choir on this one - but Matilda manages to piss me right off with Dahl's sneering at the hobbies that other people may have.  I understand that the television of Dahl's day was filled to the brim with garbage, but that is not necessarily true of television today.   This comes across in the book as Matilda, as sweet and amazing as she is, nevertheless coming across as dismissive of other people's hobby of watching television.   She does not do a good job of being an ambassador for the hobby of book reading, with how readily she is dismissive of the Wormwoods' intelligence and their tastes.  Sure, she once offers Mr. Wormwood to read The Red Pony and he DOES tear her book up (awful, I will agree) but, following that moment, how does she try to make her family understand her hobby, explain it to them and have them try reading for themselves?    SHE DOES NOT.   Today this part of the book ages the story, in the age of amazing television and movies.  It hurts its supposed timelessness.

 

 

 

- Besides being well-read, what ELSE is Matilda known for?  That's right, telepathy.

 

Although it sounds fun, I found this to be a silly, downright useless plot addition whose only real addition to the story is providing Matilda with a means to save the entire school from the Trunchbull.  I would have preferred that she save the school through a means of uniting the school (especially the children) and really use her cleverness and resourcefulness to bring everyone together to either expose the Trunchbull's cruelty to the outside world or to chase her out of the school.   The telepathy seems like a contrivance, silly in a plot where Matilda deals with very real problems (well, with the exception of the surreal addition of the Trunchbull's great size and the punishment she doles out to children)  and I think it does her intelligence and the ability to gain the friendships of those around her a disservice.

 

(show spoiler)

 

It's by no means perfect, but it is in Matilda the character that we get an amazing, extraordinary and near-timeless archetype that provides a role model for not only young girls, but also adults of both genders.  She provides a great example of how you do not have to be passive to still be a person who stands up for what's right, what you believe in.

 

Even if it is without guns.

 

(I had to take away half a star, for this godawful cover art)