Matilda Turns 30

Celebrating the 30th anniversary of Matilda's publication with a statue and more.

Thirty years ago, children were introduced to a book-loving heroine named Matilda Wormwood.

In honor of the 30th anniversary of the publication of Roald Dahl's classic Matilda, the Roald Dahl Story Company conducted a survey asking respondents who would replace Miss Trunchbull as Matilda's nemesis 30 years later. U.S. president Donald Trump garnered 42 percent of the vote, with Prime Minister Theresa May and television personality Piers Morgan coming in second and third, respectively.

Those results turned into a new statue unveiled October 1 in Great Missenden, Buckinghamshire—where Dahl lived for 36 years and home to the Roald Dahl Museum and Story Centre. The temporary installment features the young heroine, hands on hips, defiantly facing Trump while she stands on a stack of classics including Moby-Dick and Great Expectations. 

The public was also asked to vote on who would be Matilda's current friends. Actress Emma Watson, Duchess of Sussex and former actress Meghan Markle, and musician Ed Sheeran were the most popular choices, though more than half thought Lavendar would still be her best friend. As for her career, respondents saw Matilda as a school teacher (24 percent), United Nations ambassador (12 percent) or librarian (11 percent). The Guardian asked some children's authors what they thought she would be doing now. 

"I think she would be working in a bookstore with a robust children’s section. She would not be the owner," Diary of a Wimpy Kid author Jeff Kinney said. "In the book, she’s distrustful of adults. I see management as a grey figure behind her, while Matilda is the one actually putting the book in the child’s hand. I think Matilda would know that that’s a sacred act. That’s what would drive her."

Kinney also imagined a colorful past and a side career as an author for Matilda.

"She’s very curious and adventurous so, in her 20s, I think she would have bounced around the world, having a taste of everything. She’s spent time on an oil rig in Norway and tracked great white sharks in South Africa. But she’s come back home to live with Miss Honey again, because she wants to always be close to her. In her spare time, she writes fantasy books for young adults aged 12 to 15. Not because she wants to become a published writer, but to nurture a child who reminds her of herself—maybe an underprivileged kid she met in the bookstore one day. She would write just for that kid, to open up new worlds for them. She would write stories for dreamers."

Those who keep Dahl's legacy alive believe she would still be fighting for justice for the little guy.

“Matilda demonstrates that it’s possible for anyone, no matter how small and powerless they feel, to defeat the Trunchbulls in their own lives—a message that feels even more relevant today than it did 30 years ago,” said Bernie Hall of the Roald Dahl Story Company, which created the Matilda v. Trump statue.

Not everyone was thrilled with being the fictional heroine into current real world politics, however. Some social media posts were horrified to see a favorite fictional character sullied by America's current divisive political climate, others were upset that Matilda is taking sides and not being the "independent thinker" that she was.

But all fans can look forward to a special anniversary editions of the novel. Matilda's original illustrator Quentin Blake created new cover illustrations imagining Matilda now.

"It was not long ago that the publisher of Matilda pointed out to me that the book was published thirty years ago so that, if we thought of Matilda as a real person, she would also be thirty years older and might I have any thoughts about what she would be doing now," the 85-year-old artist said on his website. "Since as a small child Matilda was gifted in several different ways, that wasn't very difficult. I imagined that for each version of our grown-up Matilda one of her extraordinary talents and achievements had come to the fore and shown her a role in life. Here are some of them:

"Matilda, Chief Executive of the British Library: Interviewed by the editor of the London Review of Books, Dr Wormwood said, 'It's reassuring to know that I am never going to run out of something to read'.

"Matilda, the World Traveler: When she spoke to the foreign correspondent of The Times in the middle of the Kalahari Desert, Matilda explained, 'As a child I travelled the world in the books of Hemingway and Kipling and other writers. Now I am old enough I decided I should go myself.'

"Matilda, Head of the International Astrophysics Institute: Professor Wormwood explained in an interview: 'Even as a small child I could do mathematics in my head. I never quite knew how it happened, but the skill seems to have stayed with me.'"

The new editions will be released October 4. 

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Kara Yorio

Kara Yorio (kyorio@mediasourceinc.com, @karayorio) is news editor at School Library Journal.

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