On this day, thirty-two years ago, Matilda was published. Written by Roald Dahl, Matilda tells the story of a girl who seems to have been born into the wrong family. Her father is a crooked car salesman who sells stolen cars and her mother is a wicked layabout who thinks of Matilda as “nothing more than a scab.” As if this isn’t cruel enough for a young girl with incredible abilities, Matilda also ends up at a school with a cretin for a headmistress. Of course, this all plays into why Matilda is truly such a spectacular character. Thirty-two years ago, Matilda captured the heart of Miss Honey and in doing so, Matilda captured the hearts of millions of readers as well. Being one of those readers, here is my open letter to Roald Dahl, an appreciation for all that his lovely book has given me.
To Roald Dahl,
I’m sure you received plenty of mail from fans responding to your work. Maybe a few parents wanted to send appreciation to the writer of children’s books, maybe an adult reader could escape reality for a bit with the help of Matilda’s magic, but I want to write to you and to tell you how much your book changed my life.
It began with my best friend showing me the movie version of Matilda. I was in third grade and somehow it had slipped under my radar, even though I had seen it listed on the TV guide for ABC Family plenty of times. I was the type of kid who never grew out of re-watching the same couple of things over, and over, and over again, so it just never occurred to me to watch it until I had my best friend telling me it was one of her favorites. I was actually very hesitant to watch it even after she said that, but I was enthralled within minutes. I remember watching the scene where Mr. Wormwood was turning back the mileage of a car and I had no idea of what exactly he was doing, but clearly it was something he was not supposed to be. I kept that question tucked away until I got home, when I comfortably asked my dad about it. While that’s not nearly the most important scene, I will always remember that it was the one which really pulled me in.
For the rest of the movie I could not take my eyes away for a second, nor did I tolerate any noises from the other children watching the movie with me. For such a young and relatively shy girl, I was very demanding when it came to watching Matilda for the first time. God forbid I missed any bit of the movie, you would think the world was ending. I couldn’t help it, though, with all of the incredible scenes – both bad and good. How, exactly, was Trunchbull able to take a girl by her pigtails and hammer throw her across the school lot, over the fence, and into a flower patch? Not only this, but the girl stood up and shook it off as if she had simply tripped over her own feet. Shouldn’t she at least have a massive headache from having her hair pulled like that? I couldn’t even have my mom brush my hair without a few tears rolling down my cheeks…
The year before I was introduced to Matilda, I had a teacher who loved The Magic Tree House. She had every single Magic Tree House book in her classroom and had constructed a Magic Tree House of our own for us to read in. I fell in love with the stories and begged my parents to buy me some of the books. After I blasted through my package of the first ten Magic Tree House books, I began borrowing copies from my teacher. She had a very clever sign-out method which her second graders could use to read all of her Magic Tree House books. After I left her classroom for the last time, though, I left my desire for reading behind. As a child in the summer, my focus was less on staying inside to read a book and more on going outside to ride bikes with my friends. When I watched Matilda, though, this love that I had for reading instantly shot through my body again, and not just for The Magic Tree House, this time. I was back in school at this point and, lucky for me, the library had a copy of Matilda.
I don’t remember the specifics of how I checked out this copy of Matilda, maybe before school one day or during lunch when we were allowed to be escorted to the library, but I took out my copy and had it returned again with plenty of time before it would actually be due. After Matilda, I briefly went back to the Magic Tree House series. Then, when the Scholastic book fair came to my school, I didn’t immediately go for all of the silly nik-naks. I started wandering through the rows and finding books that seemed interesting to me. Sometimes it was a book about horses, sometimes it was a book about another little girl, and I even made my way back to eventually reading other Dahl books, such as The BFG, James and the Giant Peach, and Charlie and the Chocolate Factory. I simply wanted to become as good of a reader as Matilda, and maybe part of me even thought that if I read enough, I could develop some of the same powers she had.
Today I am twenty-three years old and I cannot keep myself from buying more (and more) books. I have a full bookshelf, in addition to other haphazard piles of books on top of furniture or tucked into the corners of my room. It’s important to note that I bought the bookshelf with the specific goal of not having random piles of books in my room anymore, by the way (clearly, that worked well). My mom is constantly reminding me that I should take a break from buying so many books, to which I always respond with laughter. I tell her as long as I’m reading them, then I can consider them valid purchases to make. While I was in college, I had to take a public speech class. My professor let us choose whatever topics we wanted to, so long as they were appropriate and could be researched. Every single time I stood in front of my class to make a speech, I preached something along the lines of why people should read more.
I don’t know if I would be the reader that I am today if I had never been introduced to Matilda, nor do I know if Matilda was actually the catalyst or the cause of this burning desire to read. My friends like to tease me because more often than not, I have no idea what they’re talking about when they make references to memes, Vines, or Tik Toks that everyone else has apparently seen hundreds of times over. After graduating from Penn State with a degree in marketing, I found myself going back to school so that I could instead study literature and build my life around that. Now, I am an intern for a website that is dedicated to book-lovers and I get to spend a portion of my time writing articles for these book-lovers to read. You can only imagine how I received news of the fact I was being offered the position.
You see, books have become a huge part of who I am, and that connection only grows stronger with each passing day. I intend to build my career around books and, who knows, maybe one day there will be a book published with my own name on it. The other day, somebody told me that nobody really knows what their paths are until they’re already on them. I had no idea I was beginning on this path by telling my friend “sure, we can watch that movie you like.” So thank you, Mr. Dahl, for writing the book, which was adapted into the movie, which inspired me to read the book, which would then get me to read hundreds of other books. Thank you for writing the character who I aspire to be, even as I enter adulthood.
Unfortunately, Roald Dahl passed away in 1990 at the age of seventy-four. Therefore, he won’t be able to read this letter which I’ve written for him, but I hope that somehow, someway, he knows the impact he’s had on me.