First UK edition
AuthorRoald Dahl
IllustratorQuentin Blake
CountryUnited Kingdom
GenreChildren's literature, fantasy
Published1 October 1988
PublisherJonathan Cape

Matilda is a 1988 children's novel by British author Roald Dahl. It was published by Jonathan Cape. The story features Matilda Wormwood, a precocious child with an uncaring mother and father, and her time in school run by the tyrannical headmistress Miss Trunchbull.

The book has been adapted in various media, including audio readings by actresses Joely Richardson, Miriam Margolyes and Kate Winslet; a 1996 feature film Matilda directed by Danny DeVito; a two-part BBC Radio 4 programme; and a 2010–2011 musical Matilda the Musical which ran on the West End in London, Broadway in New York, and around the world. A film adaptation of the musical, Matilda the Musical, was released in 2022.

In 2003, Matilda was listed at number 74 in The Big Read, a BBC survey of the British public of the top 200 novels of all time.[1] In 2012, Matilda was ranked number 30 among all-time best children's novels in a survey published by School Library Journal, a US monthly.[2] Time magazine named Matilda in its list of the 100 Best Young-Adult Books of All Time.[3] In 2012, Matilda Wormwood appeared on a Royal Mail commemorative postage stamp.[4]


In a small Buckinghamshire village forty minutes by bus away from Reading and 8 miles from Aylesbury, Matilda Wormwood is born to Mr and Mrs Wormwood. She immediately shows amazing precocity, learning to speak at age one and to read at age three and a half, perusing all the children's books in the library by the age of four and three months and moving on to longer classics such as Great Expectations and Jane Eyre. However, her parents emotionally abuse her and completely refuse to acknowledge her abilities; to keep from getting frustrated, Matilda finds herself forced to pull pranks on them, such as gluing her father's hat to his head, sticking a parrot in the chimney to simulate a burglar or ghost, and bleaching her father's hair with peroxide.

At the age of five and a half, Matilda enters school and befriends her polite and compassionate teacher Jennifer Honey, who is astonished by her intellectual abilities. Miss Honey tries to move Matilda into a higher class, but the tyrannical headmistress, Miss Agatha Trunchbull, refuses. Miss Honey also tries to talk to Mr and Mrs Wormwood about their daughter's intelligence, but they ignore her, with the mother contending "brainy-ness" is an undesirable trait in a little girl.

Miss Trunchbull later confronts a girl called Amanda Thripp for wearing pigtails (the headmistress repeatedly displays a dislike of long hair throughout the book) and does a hammer throw with the girl over the playground fence. A boy called Bruce Bogtrotter is later caught by the cook stealing a piece of Miss Trunchbull's cake; the headmistress makes him attempt to eat an 18-inch (46 cm) wide cake in front of the assembly, then smashes the platter over his head in rage after he unexpectedly succeeds.

Matilda quickly develops a particularly strong bond with Miss Honey and watches as Trunchbull terrorises her students with deliberately creative, over-the-top punishments to prevent parents from believing them, such as throwing them in a dark closet dubbed "The Chokey", which is lined with nails and broken glass. When Matilda's friend Lavender plays a practical joke on Trunchbull by placing a newt in her jug of water, Matilda is blamed; in anger, she uses an unexpected power of telekinesis to tip the glass of water containing the newt onto Trunchbull.

Matilda reveals her new powers to Miss Honey, who confides that after her wealthy father, Dr Magnus Honey, suspiciously died, she was raised by an abusive aunt, revealed to be Miss Trunchbull. Trunchbull appears, among other misdeeds, to be withholding her niece's inheritance; Miss Honey has to live in poverty in a derelict farm cottage, and her salary is being paid into Miss Trunchbull's bank account for the first 10 years of her teaching career while she is restricted to £1 per week in pocket money. Preparing to avenge Miss Honey, Matilda practices her telekinesis at home. Later, during a sadistic lesson that Miss Trunchbull is teaching, Matilda telekinetically raises a piece of chalk to the blackboard and begins to use it to write, posing as the spirit of Magnus Honey. Addressing Miss Trunchbull using her first name (Agatha), "Magnus" demands that Miss Trunchbull hand over Miss Honey's house and wages and leave the school, causing Miss Trunchbull to faint.

The next day, the school's deputy headmaster, Mr Trilby, visits Trunchbull's house and finds it empty, except for signs of Trunchbull's hasty exit. She is never seen again, and the next day Miss Honey receives a letter from a local solicitor's office, telling her that her father's lifetime savings were safe in her bank and the property she lived in as a child was left to her. Trilby becomes the new headmaster, proving himself to be capable and good-natured, overwhelmingly improving the school's atmosphere and curriculum, and quickly moving Matilda into the top-form class with the 11-year-olds. Rather to Matilda's relief, she soon is no longer capable of telekinesis. Miss Honey theorises this is because Matilda is using her brainpower on a more challenging curriculum, leaving less of her brain's enormous energy free.

Matilda continues to visit Miss Honey at her house regularly, returning home one day to find her parents and her older brother Michael hastily packing to leave for Spain. Miss Honey explains this is because the police found out Mr Wormwood has been selling stolen cars. Matilda asks permission to live with Miss Honey, to which her parents rather distractedly agree. Matilda and Miss Honey find their happy ending, as the Wormwoods drive away, never to be seen again.

Writing the novel

Dahl's initial draft for the novel portrayed Matilda as a wicked, irrational girl, her name being drawn from Hilaire Belloc's poem "Matilda Who Told Such Dreadful Lies", who tortured her innocent parents and used her psychokinetic powers to help an unethical teacher win money at horse racing. Dahl's biographer Jeremy Treglown went through the author's documents, including the drafts for the novel, and noted that the American editor Stephen Roxburgh at Farrar, Straus and Giroux had been instrumental in reshaping the story. It was the editor's idea to make Matilda an innocent child who loved books, with her powers manifesting as a result of abuse she endured. Roxburgh also suggested various changes to the main characters that were incorporated into the finished novel. As Dahl decided to take the manuscript to a different publishers the two had a falling out. The edited version of the manuscript was published by Puffin Books.[5] Dahl explained in an interview that he "got it wrong" at first and that the book took over a year to rewrite though he failed to mention Roxburgh's input.[6][7]


The year after the book was published, it received the 1989 Red House Children's Book Award. In 2000, it received the Blue Peter Book Award.[8] In 2003, Matilda was listed at number 74 in The Big Read, a BBC poll of the British public of the top 200 novels of all time.[1] In 2012 Matilda was ranked number 30 on a list of the top 100 children's novels published by School Library Journal, a monthly with primarily US audience. It was the first of four books by Dahl among the Top 100, more than any other writer.[2] Time magazine included Matilda in its list of the 100 Best Young-Adult Books of All Time.[9] Worldwide sales have reached 17 million, and since 2016 sales have spiked to the extent that it outsells Dahl's other works.[10] In 2023, the novel was ranked by BBC at no. 10 in their poll of "The 100 greatest children's books of all time".[11]

Dahl's inspiration

The "mean and loathsome" Mrs Pratchett, owner of the sweet shop Dahl frequented as a boy in Cardiff, inspired Dahl's creation of Miss Trunchbull.[12] Mr Wormwood was based on a real-life character from Dahl's home village of Great Missenden in Buckinghamshire.[13] The library in Great Missenden was the inspiration for Mrs Phelps's library, where Matilda devours classic literature by the age of four and three months.[14] On Matilda's love of reading books, Lucy Dahl stated that her father’s novel was, in part, about his love for books: "I think that there was a deep genuine fear within his heart that books were going to go away and he wanted to write about it."[15]


Further information: Matilda the Musical, Matilda (1996 film), and Matilda the Musical (film)

Matilda the Musical has been performed at the Cambridge Theatre in the West End since November 2011

In 1990, the Redgrave Theatre in Farnham produced a musical version, adapted by Rony Robinson with music by Ken Howard and Alan Blaikley, which toured the UK. It starred Annabelle Lanyon as Matilda and Jonathan Linsley as Miss Trunchbull and had mixed reviews.[16] A second musical version of the novel, Matilda the Musical, written by Dennis Kelly and Tim Minchin and commissioned by the Royal Shakespeare Company, premiered in November 2010. It opened at the Cambridge Theatre in the West End on 24 November 2011.[17][18] It opened on Broadway on 11 April 2013 at the Shubert Theatre. The musical has since done a US tour and opened in July 2015 in Australia. The stage version has become hugely popular with audiences and praised by critics, and won multiple Olivier Awards in the UK and Tony Awards in the US.[19] One critic called it "the best British musical since Billy Elliot".[20]

The novel was made into the film Matilda in 1996. It starred Mara Wilson as Matilda, and was directed by Danny DeVito, who also portrayed Mr Wormwood and narrated the story. The film changed the setting and nationality of every character (except Trunchbull who is played by Welsh actress Pam Ferris) from British to American. Although not a commercial success, it received critical acclaim at the time of its release, and on Rotten Tomatoes has a score of 90% based on reviews from 21 critics.[21]

Cast of Matilda the Musical performing the song "Naughty" at the U.S. State Department in Washington, D.C., December 2015

In December 2009, BBC Radio 4's Classic Serial broadcast a two-part adaptation by Charlotte Jones of the novel with Lenny Henry as the Narrator, Lauren Mote as Matilda, Nichola McAuliffe as Miss Trunchbull, Emerald O'Hanrahan as Miss Honey, Claire Rushbrook as Mrs Wormwood and John Biggins as Mr Wormwood.[22]

The book has been recorded as an audiobook three times. In 2004, Joely Richardson narrated the unabridged audiobook for Harper Childrens Audio (ISBN 978-0060582548).[23] Also in 2004, Miriam Margolyes narrated an abridged recording for Penguin Random House (ISBN 978-0141805542).[24] In 2013, Kate Winslet narrated an unabridged recording for Listening Library (ISBN 978-1611761849);[25][26][27] in 2014, the American Library Association shortlisted her for an Odyssey Award for her performance.[28]

On 27 November 2018, Netflix was revealed to be adapting Matilda as an animated series, which will be part of an "animated event series" along with other Roald Dahl books such as The BFG, The Twits, and Charlie and the Chocolate Factory.[29] A film adaptation of the musical was released by Sony Pictures Releasing and Netflix in 2022. It stars Alisha Weir as Matilda and Emma Thompson as Miss Trunchbull.[30][31] It is directed by Matthew Warchus.[32]

The novel at 30

Celebrating 30 years of the book's publication in October 2018, original illustrator Quentin Blake imagined what Matilda might be doing as a grown-up woman today. He drew images of her undertaking three possible roles: an explorer, an astrophysicist, and a librarian at the British Library.[10]

2023 censorship controversy

See also: Roald Dahl revision controversy

Despite Roald Dahl having enjoined his publishers not to "so much as change a single comma in one of my books", in February 2023 Puffin Books, a division of Penguin Books, announced it would be re-writing portions of many of Dahl's children's novels, changing the language to, in the publisher's words, "ensure that it can continue to be enjoyed by all today."[33] The decision was met with sharp criticism from groups and public figures including authors Salman Rushdie,[34][35] Christopher Paolini,[34] British prime minister Rishi Sunak,[36] Queen Camilla,[36][37] Kemi Badenoch,[38] PEN America,[36] and Brian Cox.[38] Dahl's publishers in the United States, France, and the Netherlands announced they had declined to incorporate the changes.[36] Following the backlash, on 23 February 2023, Puffin announced it would release an unedited selection of Dahl's children's books as "The Roald Dahl Classic Collection" because of "the importance of keeping Dahl's classic texts in print."[39][40]

In Matilda, more than sixty changes were made, including replacing references to Rudyard Kipling and Joseph Conrad with Jane Austen and John Steinbeck, removing references to skin colour (such as "turning white", "beginning to go dark red", "red in the face", and "white as paper"), removing or changing the words fat, mad, and crazy (such as changing "wobbling crazily" to "wobbling unsteadily"), removing the word madonna, and changing heroine to hero.[41][42]

Original text 2023 text[42]
'It is a curious truth that grasshoppers have their hearing-organs in the sides of the abdomen. Your daughter Vanessa, judging by what she's learnt this term, has no hearing-organs at all.' 'It is a curious truth that grasshoppers have their hearing-organs in the sides of the abdomen. Judging by what your daughter Vanessa has learnt this term, this fact alone is more interesting than anything I have taught in the classroom.'

Connections to other Roald Dahl books

One of Miss Trunchbull's punishments is to force an overweight child, Bruce Bogtrotter, to eat an enormous chocolate cake, which makes him so full that he cannot move. The cook had caught him stealing a piece of cake from the kitchen. In Roald Dahl's Revolting Recipes[43] one of the recipes is based on that cake. Bruce is a more sympathetic variation of Augustus Gloop (from Charlie and the Chocolate Factory) and similar gluttons, and he is praised for finishing the cake without suffering nausea.[44] The short story The Magic Finger by Roald Dahl, released in 1966, may have been a precursor to Matilda. A young girl has power within her finger to do things to other people when she gets emotional about a cause she feels strongly about.

See also


  1. ^ a b "The Big Read – Top 100 Books". BBC. Retrieved 16 September 2014. First of two pages. Archived 2 September 2014 by the publisher.
      Charles Dickens and Terry Pratchett led with five of the Top 100. The four extant Harry Potter novels all made the Top 25. The Dahl novels were Charlie and The Chocolate Factory, The BFG, Matilda, and The Twits.
  2. ^ a b Bird, Elizabeth (7 July 2012). "Top 100 Chapter Book Poll Results". School Library Journal. Archived from the original on 13 July 2012.
  3. ^ "100 Best Young-Adult Books". Time. Retrieved 29 October 2019.
  4. ^ Flood, Alison (9 January 2012). "Roald Dahl stamps honour classic children's author". The Guardian. Retrieved 9 January 2022.
  5. ^ Jeremy Treglown. Roald Dahl. Farrar Straus Giroux, 1994.
  6. ^ Emre, Merve. "Making It Big | Merve Emre". ISSN 0028-7504. Retrieved 17 March 2023.
  7. ^ "Matilda". 7 April 2014. Archived from the original on 7 April 2014. (Roald Dahl official website)
  8. ^ The Blue Peter Book Awards,
  9. ^ "100 Best Young-Adult Books". Time. Retrieved 29 October 2019.
  10. ^ a b Ferguson, Donna (15 September 2018). "Matilda's new adventures at 30: astrophysicist, explorer or bookworm". The Guardian. Retrieved 22 September 2018.
  11. ^ "The 100 greatest children's books of all time". 23 May 2023.
  12. ^ "Matilda by Roald Dahl: Quentin Blake's sketches and original artwork". British Library. Retrieved 13 October 2022.
  13. ^ Sturrock, Donald (2010). Storyteller: The authorized biography of Roald Dahl. Simon & Schuster. p. 287.
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  15. ^ "7 Things You May Not Know About Matilda". Mental Floss. Retrieved 23 December 2022.
  16. ^ "The 'Other' Matilda Musical | Safety Curtain". 19 September 2013. Retrieved 20 September 2013.[self-published source] This tertiary source reuses information from other sources but does not name them.
  17. ^ Serena Allott (26 November 2010) Waltzing Matilda: Dahl's classic dances on to the stage The Daily Telegraph
  18. ^ "RSC Sets Dates for Dahl's Matilda Musical, 9 Nov". What' 30 September 2009. Archived from the original on 9 February 2013. Retrieved 7 April 2010.
  19. ^ "Play about maths genius equals Matilda's record". The Guardian. 29 April 2013. Retrieved 3 May 2013.
  20. ^ "Once upon a time, there was a man who liked to make up stories..." The Independent. 12 December 2010. Retrieved 9 September 2022.
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  22. ^ "Episode 15, Matilda, Classic Serial – BBC Radio 4". BBC. Retrieved 4 June 2016.
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  24. ^ "Matilda Audio Cassette read by Miriam Margolyes". Retrieved 12 December 2023.
  25. ^ Maguire, Gregory (22 November 2013). "Speaking Gobblefunk". The New York Times. Retrieved 9 March 2023.
  26. ^ "Release "Matilda" by Roald Dahl read by Kate Winslet". MusicBrainz. 6 June 2013. Retrieved 9 March 2023.
  27. ^ "Roald Dahl's Matilda Audio CD – read by Kate Winslet". Roald 20 May 2016. Archived from the original on 8 July 2018. Retrieved 20 May 2016.
  28. ^ "Odyssey Award winners and honor audiobooks, 2008–present". Retrieved 1 July 2014.
  29. ^ Rowney, Jo-Anne (27 November 2018). "Netflix's new Roald Dahl animated series 'reimagines' Matilda and Willy Wonka". Daily Mirror. Retrieved 9 September 2022.
  30. ^ "Emma Thompson gives Matilda The Musical a deranged villain to remember". The Telegraph. Retrieved 22 November 2022.
  31. ^ "Roald Dahl's Matilda the Musical review – all-singing, hall-dancing adaptation is by the book brilliance". The Guardian. Retrieved 22 November 2022.
  32. ^ Bergeson, Samantha (15 June 2022). "'Matilda' Trailer: Emma Thompson Is Unrecognizable as Monstrous Miss Trunchbull in Roald Dahl Musical". IndieWire. Retrieved 16 June 2022.
  33. ^ Sawer, Patrick (25 February 2023). "Roald Dahl warned 'politically correct' publishers – 'change one word and deal with my crocodile'". The Telegraph. Retrieved 21 March 2023.
  34. ^ a b Murdock, Hannah (21 February 2023). "Authors react to 'absurd' changes to Roald Dahl's children's books to make them less offensive". Deseret News. Retrieved 21 March 2023.
  35. ^ Dellatto, Marisa. "Roald Dahl Books Get New Edits—And Critics Cry Censorship: The Controversy Surrounding 'Charlie And The Chocolate Factory' And More". Forbes. Retrieved 19 June 2023.
  36. ^ a b c d Blair, Elizabeth (24 February 2023). "Roald Dahl's publisher responds to backlash by keeping 'classic' texts in print". NPR. Retrieved 21 March 2023.
  37. ^ Lawless, Jill (24 February 2023). "Penguin to publish 'classic' Roald Dahl books after backlash". Associated Press. New York City, NY, USA. Archived from the original on 28 February 2023.
  38. ^ a b Honeycombe-Foster, Matt; Blanchard, Jack (21 February 2023). "UK's Badenoch slams 'problematic' rewrites of classic Roald Dahl books". Politico. Arlington County, Virginia, USA: Axel Springer SE. Archived from the original on 28 February 2023. Retrieved 27 February 2023.
  39. ^ Jackson, Siba (24 February 2023). "Roald Dahl classic texts to be kept in print after outrage over changes to books". Sky News. Archived from the original on 24 February 2023. Retrieved 4 May 2023.
  40. ^ Rackham, Annabel (24 February 2023). "Roald Dahl: Original books to be kept in print following criticism". BBC News. Archived from the original on 24 February 2023. Retrieved 4 May 2023.
  41. ^ Harrison, Ellie (23 February 2023). "The 6 most glaring edits to Roald Dahl's books by publisher Puffin". The Independent. London, England: Independent Digital News & Media Ltd. ISSN 1741-9743. OCLC 185201487. Archived from the original on 27 February 2023. Retrieved 27 February 2023.
  42. ^ a b Cumming, Ed; Buchanan, Abigail; Holl-Allen, Genevieve; Smith, Benedict (24 February 2023). "The Writing of Roald Dahl". The Telegraph. Retrieved 20 March 2023.
  43. ^ Academia. Roald Dahl's Revolting Recipes – Download Free PDF
  44. ^ Long, Dorothy. Revolting recipes.