Matilda is a children's novel by British writer Roald Dahl. It was published in 1988 by Jonathan Cape in London, with 232 pages and illustrations by Quentin Blake. It was adapted as an audio reading by actress Kate Winslet, a 1996 feature film directed by Danny DeVito, a two-part BBC Radio 4 programme starring Lauren Mote as Matilda, Nichola McAuliffe as Miss Trunchbull and narrated by Lenny Henry, and a 2010 musical.
In 2012 Matilda was ranked number 30 among all-time children's novels in a survey 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.
In a small Buckinghamshire village, Matilda is a six-year-old girl of unusual precocity, but she is often ill-treated or neglected by her parents. In retaliation, she resorts to pranks such as gluing her father's hat to his head, hiding a friend's parrot in the chimney to simulate a burglar or ghost, and secretly bleaching her father's hair.
Matilda has read a variety of books by different authors, especially at the age of four, when she read many in six months including The Secret Garden, Great Expectations, Nicholas Nickleby, Oliver Twist, Jane Eyre, Pride and Prejudice, Tess of the d'Urbervilles, Gone to Earth, Kim, The Invisible Man, The Old Man and the Sea, The Sound and the Fury, The Grapes of Wrath, The Good Companions, Brighton Rock, Animal Farm, Moby Dick, Ivanhoe, The Red Pony and Peter and Wendy.
At school, Matilda befriends her kindergarten teacher, Jennifer Honey, who is astonished by Matilda's intellectual abilities. She tries to move her into a higher class but is refused by the headmistress, the tyrannical Agatha Trunchbull. Miss Honey also tries to talk to Mr and Mrs Wormwood about Matilda's intelligence, but they ignore her.
Matilda quickly develops a particularly strong bond with Miss Honey and watches as Miss Trunchbull terrorizes her students with creative, over-the-top punishments. When Matilda's friend, Lavender, plays a practical joke on Miss Trunchbull by placing a newt in her jug of water, Matilda uses an unexpected power of telekinesis to tip the glass of water containing the newt onto Miss Trunchbull.
After Matilda reveals her powers to Miss Honey, Miss Honey confides that she was raised by an abusive aunt after the suspicious death of her father. Her aunt is revealed to be Miss Trunchbull herself, who appears (among other misdeeds) to be withholding her niece's inheritance, so that Miss Honey has to live in poverty in a derelict farm cottage. Preparing to avenge Miss Honey, Matilda develops her telekinetic gift through practice at home. Later, during a lesson that Miss Trunchbull is teaching, Matilda telekinetically raises a piece of chalk to the blackboard and writes on it, posing as the spirit of Miss Honey's late father and demanding that Miss Trunchbull hand over Miss Honey's house and wages and leave the region forever.
This is soon done, and with the approval of a new school headteacher, the capable and good-natured Mr Trilby, Matilda herself advances to the highest level of schooling. Rather to her relief, she is no longer capable of telekinesis; this is explained by Miss Honey as the result of using her mind on a more challenging curriculum.
Matilda continues to visit Miss Honey at her house regularly, but one day finds her parents hastily packing to escape from the police, who are after her father for selling stolen cars. Matilda asks permission to live with Miss Honey, to which her parents rather uninterestedly agree. So both she and Miss Honey find their happy ending.
The novel was made into the film Matilda in 1996. It was directed by Danny DeVito and starred Mara Wilson as Matilda. Although the film was not a box office success, it received critical acclaim at the time of its release, and holds a "fresh" rating of 90% on Rotten Tomatoes. DeVito portrayed Mr. Wormwood as well as the narrator.
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. 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. 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. One critic called it "the best British musical since Billy Elliot".
The actress Kate Winslet provides the English-language audiobook recording of Matilda. In 2014, the American Library Association shortlisted her for an Odyssey Award for her audiobook performance.
One of Miss Trunchbull's punishments is to force an overweight child, Bruce Bogtrotter, to eat an enormous chocolate cake, which makes him sick. He had been found guilty of stealing cake from the kitchen. In Roald Dahl's Revolting Recipes one of the recipes is based on that cake; whereas Bruce is a more sympathetic variation of Augustus Gloop (from "Charlie and the Chocolate Factory") and similar gluttons, and made something of a hero by finishing the cake without suffering nausea. The short story "The Magic Finger" by Roald Dahl, released in 1964, 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.