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, amusical version will be playing in Britain throughout 2012. Intrigued? Check out thesoundtrack, and start marching to the beat of Matilda's offbeat drum.


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 Roald Dahl 3

How It All Goes Down

Meet Matilda. She lives with her mean parents. We mean, they're mean on mean. They ignore her, which is extra tragic because she's shaping up to be a super-genius. In spite of them, she teaches herself to read, and heads to the local library, where Mrs. Phelps sets her up with a very advanced reading list.

Sure, Matilda's home life stinks. But she's a clever girl, so she decides to play tricks on her parents whenever they behave badly. She plays three pranks, gluing her dad's hat to his head, disguising a neighbor's parrot as a ghost, and dying her dad's hair blonde. Yes, these are as awesome as they sound.

Then, Matilda starts going to school. On day one, her teacher Miss Honey quickly realizes how smart Matilda is. Miss Honey even visits the headmistress, the Trunchbull, to ask for help with Matilda, but the Trunchbull ain't havin' it. The same thing happens when Miss Honey visits the Wormwoods. Meanwhile, Matilda and her friend Lavender meet Hortensia, who tells them all about how horrible the Trunchbull is. They see the Trunchbull throw a little girl through the playground by her hair. Another day, the Trunchbull force-feeds a kid named Bruce Bogtrotter an entire cake. This woman is bad news.

Lavender decides to prank the Trunchbull on a class visit. She captures a newt and puts it into the Trunchbull's water glass. The Trunchbull blames Matilda for the newt, which makes our girl so mad she pushes the Trunchbull's water glass over with her mind. Whoa. After class, she tells Miss Honey what she did, and then she gives her teacher a little magic show, which results in Miss Honey inviting little Matilda to tea.

Turns out Miss Honey is really poor. She tells Matilda about her past. After her mom died, her mean aunt straight up ruined her life. In fact, Miss Honey suspects that the aunt might have killed her father, and stolen all Miss Honey's money. Oh, and by the way, her aunt is the Trunchbull. We're totally serious.

Matilda decides to use her telekinetic powers to help Miss Honey, so she practices and practices and practices until finally the day comes when she can get some serious revenge.

The Trunchbull visits Miss Honey's class again. The Trunchbull is acting as abusive as ever when she's interrupted by a piece of chalk that's writing on its own. It writes that the Trunchbull has to stop cheating Miss Honey, give the things she stole back, and get rolling. Or else. Needless to say, the Trunchbull passes out cold. Wouldn't you?

Soon we find out the Trunchbull obeyed Matilda's instructions. Miss Honey moves home and starts living a decent life again. And Matilda, who visits her every day, gets moved up to the school's highest class. After moving up, Matilda loses her powers. One day, she finds out that her parents are planning to move to Spain, ASAP. Matilda doesn't want to go with them.

We'll come right out and tell you guys that this is a win-win. That's because Matilda moves in with Miss Honey, where the two live happily (and smartly) ever after.

Source: shmoop, 2013