Matilda by Roald Dahl: Background information when reading The Last Chance Library

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The Last Chance Library

by Freya Sampson

The Last Chance Library by Freya Sampson X
The Last Chance Library by Freya Sampson
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    Aug 2021, 336 pages

    Aug 2021, 336 pages


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Matilda by Roald Dahl

This article relates to The Last Chance Library

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Matilda by Roald Dahl In The Last Chance Library by Freya Sampson, main character June is attached to certain favorite childhood books, including the young adult novel Matilda by acclaimed and bestselling author Roald Dahl, also known for Charlie and the Chocolate Factory and The BFG. Matilda won the Children's Book Award shortly after its publication in 1988 and is today considered a classic of children's literature. Time magazine has listed it as one of the 100 top YA books of all time.

The novel follows Matilda Wormwood, a girl of extraordinary abilities whose dishonest and selfish parents fail to appreciate her. Like June, Matilda has a great love for books, but the rest of her family prefers television and cannot relate to her. Matilda also encounters problems at school, where the cruel headmistress, Miss Trunchbull, terrorizes staff and students alike. Matilda's kindhearted teacher, Miss Honey, bonds with her and offers her support, but is unable to have Matilda moved to a higher grade despite her advanced knowledge, due to Miss Trunchbull's refusal. It eventually becomes clear that Miss Honey is more compromised in her position at the school than Matilda at first realized, and it also emerges that Matilda has special powers that she may be able to use to combat Miss Trunchbull's bullying. Matilda subsequently comes up with a plan to end the headmistress's terrible reign once and for all.

In its initial form, the novel was quite different, and arguably less appropriate for children: Matilda was not the eminently sympathetic heroine she is known as today, but an ill-behaved girl who uses her powers to help her teacher by fixing a horse race and dies as a result. After Dahl's editor described an early draft of the story as "hopeless," the author rewrote it into its now-popular final version. However, despite the sunnier makeover the book received, part of its appeal lies in its entertainingly grotesque and humorously unsavory elements. A 2013 review appearing in the Guardian emphasizes this, stating that "many readers will be drawn to the larger-than-life, extrovert, humourous and strangely likeable headmistress, Miss Trunchbull. Her unique reprimands to the children, with phrases such as 'blithering idiot' and 'stagnant cesspool' will leave you in stitches."

Another part of the appeal of Matilda is the main character's underdog identity. As Matilda is a girl who finds herself in neglectful and abusive environments and must fight for a better situation for herself and those around her, she has sometimes been seen as relatable by marginalized groups. In a New Statesman article, Louis Staples reflects on the book's status as an LGBT+ classic, suggesting that queer people can relate to Matilda's isolation and inability to fit in with her family, as well as her general lack of adherence to norms and expectations.

Matilda has now appeared in several formats beyond its original incarnation, including an audiobook narrated by Kate Winslet, a 1996 film starring Mara Wilson in the lead role that has become a cult classic, and a musical produced by the Royal Shakespeare Company. A current edition of the book available from Penguin Random House comes in a chocolate-scented package, a nod to an incident in the book where Miss Trunchbull forces a boy named Bruce Bogtrotter to eat an entire chocolate cake as a punishment and he surprisingly rises to the challenge. Multiple online sources offer recipes inspired by this particular chocolate cake, just one example of how beloved and culturally relevant Dahl's novel remains.

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This article relates to The Last Chance Library. It first ran in the September 8, 2021 issue of BookBrowse Recommends.

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