Study Guide

Matilda

By Roald Dahl

Matilda Introduction

You gotta love it when the little guy takes down the big guy, right? Whether it's David kicking some serious Goliath butt or Rudy strapping on Notre Dame's classic gold helmet, we all love to see the underdog come out on top. And that's just what happens in Matilda, one of the last books ever written by the beloved children's book author Roald Dahl, which came out in 1988.

This one's all about a pint-sized girl named Matilda who also happens to be a telekinetic genius. Unfortunately, most of the adults in her life don't seem too keen on letting that genius flourish, and that means this book is classic Roald Dahl. Dahl is no stranger to underdogs with special qualities. Just take a peek at our guides on Charlie and the Chocolate Factory and The Witches to see what we mean. Like both of these books, Matilda features a young kid as a main character and grown-ups as bad guys in some seriously extraordinary circumstances.

It makes sense, then, that Matilda has remained popular since the day it flew off the presses. According to Dahl's official site, the book sold incredibly fast at first: "Matilda, Roald's penultimate book, broke all previous records for a work of children's fiction with U.K. sales of over half a million paperbacks in six months." Phew.

And no wonder. This baby won the Children's Book Award the very same year it was published, and then, ten whole years later, it was voted the Nation's Favorite Children's Book in a BBC Bookworm poll (source). Matilda has some major staying power. Since it hit the shelves in the 80s, Matilda has stuck around in popular culture. In addition to the 1996 movie, which starred Danny DeVito and Rhea Perlman of Cheers fame, a musical version will be playing in Britain throughout 2012. Intrigued? Check out the soundtrack, and start marching to the beat of Matilda's offbeat drum.

What is Matilda About and Why Should I Care?

We've all done it: fantasized about getting back at someone who's bullied you or called you names. We've all wanted to do something drastic to get our bully punished, while we get away scot-free. Maybe someone has put a stink bomb in your locker or slammed into you in the hallway, knocking all your books over. Maybe someone called you four eyes, or cheated off your test in class. It's only human to want to teach that kid a lesson. It's okay, Shmoopers, you can admit it.

The heroine of Matilda gets to do just that. Her father rips up her books, yells at her, and accuses her of lying and cheating. So what does she do in response? Instead of curling up and crying, or trying to run away, she stays home and gets even. She plays tricks on her father that are far more clever than his unfounded abuse, and even though he might suspect she's behind some of it, there's no way he can prove any of it. Thanks to Matilda, her father has to go to work with a hat glued to his head. Thanks to Matilda, the guy has to dye his hair platinum blond. And thanks to Matilda, he winds up thinking there's a ghost in the dining room. Then, when it comes to the Trunchbull, Matilda whips out the big guns: telekinetic powers. This girl is a master when it comes to getting even.

In Matilda, we get to watch with delight as several kids—not just Matilda—play pranks on the Meanies, Big Bullies, and Tyrannical Teachers in their lives. They get even and get away with it. Whether these pranks are things we couldn't (or shouldn't) do in real life, we can all live vicariously through the poetic justice these downtrodden kids achieve. We readers love to see bullies get their comeuppance without worrying if anyone or anything's coming for us, too.

Matilda Resources

Websites

Dahl's Official Website
There's plenty to explore in Dahl's official site. Just make sure the Trunchbull doesn't catch you.

Matilda the Musical
Quick—get your tickets before it sells out. Here's the site for Matilda the musical, by Dennis Kelly and Tim Minchin.

Illustrator Quentin Blake
Dahl's favorite illustrator, Quentin Blake, has some awesome illustrations for Matilda.

Movie or TV Productions

Matilda, 1996
This fun flick stars Danny DeVito as the wormy Mr. Wormwood, Rhea Perlman as his squirrely wife, and Mara Wilson as Matilda (remember her from Mrs. Doubtfire?).

Articles and Interviews

"The Candy Man"
For you not-so-young adults out there, this article by Margaret Talbot talks about Dahl's legacy and works, including Matilda.

Meet the Man
Be sure to check out this interview with Matilda's maker.

Video

Sing Along to Matilda
Grab your mics, Shmoopers. It's karaoke time.

Matilda Trailer
Check out the trailer for the 1996 movie version.

Matilda Moves and Grooves
Watch this awesome scene from the movie featuring Matilda's telekinesis in all its glory. We dare you not to dance along, little bitty pretty ones.

Audio

Listen to Matilda
Joely Richardson lends her voice to this reading of your new favorite Dahl book.

Audiobook
Check out the audiobook on YouTube, complete with awesome sound effects. Be sure to click through to part 2!

Hear Dahl Himself
Listen to interview bits and bobs on the official site. (You'll want to click on "The Man," and then on "An Interview with Roald Dahl.")

Images

2010 Cover
Illustrator Quentin Blake lends his whimsical pen to this cover for the 2010 edition of Matilda.

The Dreadful Wormwoods of Matilda the Movie
Awesome hairdos all around.

The Trunchbull
Courtesy of none other than Quentin Blake.

Matilda Movie Poster
We're adding this one to Shmoop's movie poster collection.