Matilda was hands down my favourite book as a child, because its heroine had characteristics with which I could identify (not the telekinesis, I wish though), and because it cemented for me my love for everything Roald Dahl. I came across this wonderful article by Chelsey Philpot recently, and was blown away- she sums up everything I feel about Dahl and his books extraordinarily eloquently. The book celebrates its 25th anniversary this month, and I can’t help feel a sense of pride on behalf of my favourite fictitious heroine. She’s changed her appearance on books over the years (my personal Matilda will always look the way Quentin Blake drew her), and she’s appeared in a film and on Broadway, but she is as relevant, if not more relevant, today than ever before.
In her article, Ms. Philpot says something that strikes me as scary-
For my job as a children’s book-reviews editor, I’ve read more novels and picture books for kids than anyone above the age of 10 can justify. On my bookshelves, Silverstein is squashed between Frost and Lorca. Given what crosses my desk these days, I doubt that Matilda would make it out of many an editor’s slush pile in the current publishing climate. It goes against too many rules: It’s a hard sell to get 9-year-olds interested in a 5-year-old protagonist; the first quarter of the book is episodic; and Matilda doesn’t even have supernatural power until Page 165. (Would readers have waited that long for Rick Riordan’s Percy Jackson to realize he’s a demigod?)
What she says is frighteningly true, and nobody would know better about children’s literature than a children’s book-reviews editor, but I like to think Dahl would be have been incredibly successful today if he were still around. The thing that makes his books so very distinct is that they are so cleverly written, readable for a hopeless 8 year old me, and even more so to a much more well-read 17 year old me.
Thank you, Mr. Dahl, for single-handedly creating the hunger I have now for literature. And thank you Matilda, for teaching me that I am not alone.