Today is Roald Dahl Day and I was asked on Twitter which one of his books is my favourite. The answer came easily; Matilda.
There are so many messages running through the book that provide hope and show the power of allowing ourselves to dream. Matilda is five and misunderstood by the rest of her family. She is very different to her parents and brother, who ostracise her for not being like them. She is a clever and resourceful girl who is easily infuriated and refuses to condone the dishonesty of her parents. In some situations it would be easier for her to force herself to fit in, but she demonstrates a moral compass beyond her years. She has taught herself to read at the local library and uses books to escape to other worlds. School is (in part) a haven for her; she is encouraged by her teacher who wants her to thrive and explore the world she lives in.
As an adult I can still identify with Matilda. She finds comfort in books and uses them to help her understand the parts of the world that are unfamiliar to her. Of equal importance, she recognises that the books that are representative of her life are valuable in reassuring her that she is not alone.
The books that I have kept from my teenage years are the ones that told me I wasn’t alone. They remain on the bookshelf gathering dust, and I have no intention of reading them again. But I won’t get rid of them because they contain the voices that told me that I wasn’t alone, and that my life would not fall apart because I was gay. They will probably stay there forever, getting dustier, because they acted like a security blanket at a time when life felt uncertain.
Dahl writes about young minds being nurtured by the voices of authors whose books are sent out into the world. As I choose (and therefore like) the children’s books that we have on the bookshelf at home, there is something wonderful about the image of an author shaping my daughter’s young mind via a bedtime story. It gives me hope that a complete stranger can initiate ideas and dreams, and stimulate the imagination of children who still have infinite faith in themselves.
Matilda shows the power of determination and the importance of being true to yourself. It is difficult to feel different to others, and even harder to allow yourself the freedom to be different. Matilda does not allow her background to dictate her future. She is determined that she will not follow her parents’ example, and instead fashions her own path in life. She is not held back by the cards she was dealt at birth, using books and education to free herself. As a child, she felt like a role model to me, and I am looking forward to sharing her with my children when they are older.