Friday, March 26, 2021

Believe Care Invest: Matilda

4 year old Matilda lives with awful parents who just want her to watch TV, but she discovers a precocious love of books and spends all day at the library reading, first all the kids books and then adult books. Soon she decides that her parents are awful (“If only they would read a little Dickens or Kipling they would soon discover there was more to life than cheating people and watching television.”) and begins playing sadistic tricks on them, supergluing her father’s hat to his head.

Why Matilda might be hard to identify with: We’re not married to her POV. We flit from head to head, including in Dahl’s, who begins the book by talking about how if he was a teacher, he’d say horribly belittling things to the kids. Then the book begins and Matilda’s parents sound a lot like Dahl when they talk to their daughter! To bond with Matilda, we have to say, “I like my hero more than my omniscient narrator.”

  • She loves to read. We love readers. And we specific lists of what she’s reading.
  • We gets lots of good details of life as a crooked used car dealer.
  • She’s got abusive parents. “the parents looked upon Matilda in particular as nothing more than a scab. A scab is something you have to put up with until the time comes when you can pick it off and flick it away Mr and Mrs Wormwood looked forward enormously to the time when they could pick their little daughter off and flick her away, preferably into the next county or even further than that.”
  • We’ve all felt under-appreciated and under-protected by our parents, but her case is extreme. “To tell the truth, I doubt they would have noticed had she crawled into the house with a broken leg.”
  • Even the wonderful librarian has a hard time believing at first that she’s really reading all those books. Every precocious kid has had that experience.
  • She’s a genius: “It is bad enough when parents treat ordinary children as though they were scabs and bunions, but it becomes somehow a lot worse when the child in question is extra- ordinary, and by that I mean sensitive and brilliant. Matilda was both of these things, but above all she was brilliant. Her mind was so nimble and she was so quick to learn that her ability should have been obvious even to the most half-witted of parents.”
  • She starts playing pranks on them. “She decided that every time her father or her mother was beastly to her, she would get her own back in some way or another. A small victory or two would help her to tolerate their idiocies and would stop her from going crazy.”
  • Fascinatingly, she doesn’t discover that she has super-powers until page 100 or so, which is an odd place in a book for a genre-shift.
Strength/Flaw: Brilliant / Not much of a flaw. What do you say, do you see a flaw?


Jordan said...

Hi. Im loving the 10:30s - as for common books, I think Anne of Green Gables is in there with Matilda and most people know it. I found it too harrowing a read when I was 8 or 10 but eventually got through it. Thanks

Jordan said...

Another book that I loved was Moby Dick and the movie remains one of my favourites, with Gregory Peck. Standing on the dock, debating whether to go back with the silent women to safety or hop on board with these guys still resonates with me.

Matt Bird said...

I've never read Anne of Green Gables, nor seen any of the adaptations, believe it or not! Moby Dick is a great suggestion. Maybe my favorite first page ever.

LMNtrees said...

I loved Anne of Green Gables. It's a book that is still rewarding as an adult, because there are layers in the book that are only accessible to an adult. For example, Anne does not often talk directly about her backstory, so a child can ignore that (or maybe only feel it subconsciously), but, as an adult, I can see how that backstory feeds into the book's emotional and thematic power. I would suggest you stay away from the adaptations because I think they get the book wrong.

Another children's book with wonderful adult layers is The Wheel on the School by Meindert de Jong.