Wednesday, September 14, 2011

Matilda: Patron Saint of the Downtrodden Bookworm

Yesterday was Roald Dahl's birthday, and that got me thinking about one of my favorite Dahl creations: Matilda.

I like to think that I was born with books in my blood, that somehow a love of words is locked into the double helix of my DNA. But when I look back on my childhood, there were more than a few figures who guided me through the wilderness of 'weird' and other labels that often scare kids away from indulging in their instinctual desires to read voraciously.

There was Belle, who, let's face it, wasn't in love with the Beast until she saw his library. And Elizabeth Wakefield, who had brains, beauty, books, and a boyfriend. All Bs, except for her report card (perish the thought!). Or Vada Sultenfuss, slightly more morbid (she was the daughter of a funeral director, after all) lover of poetry and mood rings.

In this pantheon of reading icons is Matilda. In many ways, she's a patented Dahl character: down-trodden child empowered by elements of magic to change her situation. For Charlie it was chocolate. For Matilda it was books. (For me, it's both!)

Unfortunately, read as much as I would, I couldn't tip any glasses over with my mind. Then again, I was never threatened with the Chokey at school, though I might be able to identify some slightly Trunchbullian administrators and teachers. Still, I made the connection early on between books and magic. And not just in the pyschokinetic powers sense.

So thank you, Roald Dahl, for creating Matilda Wormwood and adding to the cast of characters who helped to give nature a boost and nurturing my growing love of books. I don't know who I would have become without such characters, but I don't want to.

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