When Roald Dahl’s Matilda turns 30

Editor | Fiction

Roald Dahl’s Matilda is nothing less than an icon – of page, screen and stage. October 1st marks 30 years since the beloved book was first published, introducing Matilda Wormwood, her nemesis Miss Trunchbull and her champion Miss Honey. Today, MATILDA – both the story and character – is more popular than ever.


Published on October 1st 1988, MATILDA was the last major book published in Roald Dahl’s lifetime and won the 1989 Children’s Book Award – voted for by kids throughout the UK. MATILDA is one of Roald Dahl’s bestselling stories around the world – with 17 million copies in circulation. MATILDA features the two most liked characters* in all of Roald Dahl’s work – Matilda herself, and her inspirational teacher Miss Honey. The story also features readers’ favourite Roald Dahl villain* Miss Trunchbull, the hammer – and occasionally pupil – throwing headmistress.

Matilda Wormwood is a character ahead of her time – a strong girl and the quintessential young rebel, ready to tackle injustice and bullies whenever and wherever they spring from. Her parents call her terrible names – when the truth is that she’s a GENIUS and they’re the STUPID ones. Underestimating Matilda proves to be a huge mistake, as horrible headmistress Miss Trunchbull also discovers. Matilda’s story demonstrates the need to stand up for what you believe is right and that, even when you feel most SMALL and powerless, you can stand up to BIG bullies, change tough circumstances for the better and, in effect, write your own story. Matilda even changes her own family situation – finding a new life with Miss Honey at the close of the story.

Sir Quentin Blake, who illustrated the original book in 1988, has returned to create striking NEW images of MATILDA aged 30, in a number of possible roles – including Astrophysicist, World Traveller and Chief Executive of the British Library. These three illustrations feature as covers of special celebratory editions of the book released by Penguin Random House Children’s on October 4.

Quentin says, “I have had a lot of fun imagining what that little girl might be doing now she’s all grown up. Since, as a small child, Matilda was gifted in several different ways, it wasn’t very difficult… Illustrating MATILDA was a wonderful experience. It has been very special to revisit her all these years later and marvel at the woman she would have become.”

Carmen McCullough, Roald Dahl Editor, Puffin Books, was herself only two when MATILDA was first published. She says, “MATILDA was one of my absolute favourite books growing up and one I returned to again and again as I got older. I was transfixed by the horrifying Miss Trunchbull and terrified of the dreaded Chokey! But more than anything, I was mesmerised by Matilda herself – this extraordinary tiny girl who boldly stood up to bullies, championed stories and libraries and calculated giant sums in her head. With her fearless spirit and amazing brain, Matilda remains every bit as relevant and inspirational to children and adults today as she did thirty years ago. Matilda has always been a force to be reckoned with and as a long-time fan and admirer, I am so thrilled to be publishing new editions of this beloved story, which wonderfully reimagine Matilda for a whole new generation of readers.”


Released in 1996, the Sony movie adaptation of MATILDA was directed by Danny DeVito, who also starred as Mr Wormwood alongside his real-life wife Rhea Perlman as Mrs Wormwood. The movie has sold over 4.2 million units on DVD and regularly appears in lists of the best Family Films of all-time – most recently on PureWow (August 2018) who noted, “This story of a telekinetic young girl will teach your kids that with a little encouragement (and a lot of reading), they can accomplish whatever they set their minds to. And who doesn’t want to teach their kids that?”

Mara Wilson, who played the tiny rebel so memorably, is now 31 – just a year older than Matilda herself. All these years later, MATILDA remains culturally important and inspiring to Mara. “There are so few stories about the power of education and curiosity that truly capture the joy of learning,” she says. “There are also so few stories about young girls using knowledge and bravery to overcome their circumstances and fight for justice. MATILDA is as celebratory as it is empowering.”


Not content with conquering page and screen, in 2010, MATILDA took to the stage and then set about taking over the world. MATILDA THE MUSICAL –  produced by the Royal Shakespeare Company, written by Dennis Kelly with music and lyrics by Tim Minchin – has been seen by eight million people in over 65 cities worldwide and won over 85 international awards, including 16 for Best Musical.

The show celebrates Matilda’s rebellious spirit through songs such as “Naughty” and “Revolting Children”, whilst choreographer Peter Darling created the defiant MATILDA pose which has become an iconic symbol of the power of small versus big.

MATILDA THE MUSICAL had its first non-English language production at the LG Arts Centre in Seoul, South Korea in September 2018 and opens in South Africa in October. The show is also now touring the UK and Ireland – in addition to playing to packed houses at its London home, the Cambridge Theatre.

Catherine Mallyon, RSC Executive Director, says: “How can this little girl with such extraordinary talents already be 30?! Roald Dahl’s MATILDA, written 30 years ago in what was such a different world, remains fresh and meaningful to so many people – children and adults alike. Matilda’s character has brought to life the hopes, dreams, frustrations (and of course naughtiness) of our childhoods and beyond. Long may Matilda continue to entertain and move audiences and readers in whatever form she appears. Have a very happy 30th Birthday Matilda, thank you for everything.”


Matilda is a perennially popular character online. December 2017 saw a heated Twitter debate around how Matilda would square up against (the similarly telekinetic) Eleven from cult TV show Stranger Things. Ultimately, Mara Wilson stepped in to graciously assert that, “Matilda and Eleven would choose not to fight, and would instead become friends”.

Then, in Summer 2018, “The Matilda Challenge”- a viral challenge recreating the scene from the movie in which Matilda masters her psychic abilities – took the internet by storm. Trending globally, the challenge became a “Twitter Moment” in the UK, USA, Mexico, Brazil, Venezuela, Germany and Australia. Instagram reported over 10,000 uses of #MatildaChallenge in just a week. User generated content on YouTube generated millions of views.

The character and story of MATILDA resonates strongly not only with young readers – male as well as female, around the world – but also with the Millennials, who grew up with it. Both STAR WARS actress Daisy Ridley (26) and singer Kelly Clarkson (36) are just two high-profile names to recently cite MATILDA as an important influence. Clarkson says that, “MATILDA pretty much changed my life when I was a kid; I loved it. I related to the character.” Meantime Ridley notes, “her capabilities are massive. Imagine her as an adult!”

Bernie Hall, Marketing Director, the Roald Dahl Story Company (herself aged just one when the story was first published) says, “MATILDA was the first book I truly loved as a young reader. She was then – and still is – a huge inspiration, who helped me believe that even if you feel small and powerless – you can defeat the Trunchbulls that stand in your way – and that being a bookworm doesn’t just make you smart – it makes you powerful!”


  1. MATILDA is one of Roald Dahl’s bestselling titles globally. It has sold 17 million copies worldwide.
  2. Though the story celebrates the transformative power of reading, Matilda’s family (the Wormwoods) possesses only one book – “EASY COOKING”. By the time Matilda is 4 years, 3 months old, she has read every children’s book in the local library. Her favourite is THE SECRET GARDEN.
  3. Matilda tells librarian Mrs Phelps that she particularly likes Hemingway’s writing. Roald Dahl met Hemingway early in his career and often spoke of his influence on his writing.
  4. In the first draft of the story, Matilda is described as “just about the most wicked child in the world”. Despite this label, she has a strong social conscience and confides in her favourite teacher that she wants to be a doctor working in hot faraway places and saving children’s lives. At the close of this draft, she uses telekinesis to save children trapped in a minibus, which has crashed with a truck, sacrificing her own life to do so. In the version we know and love, MATILDA is no longer described as “wicked” but she remains the quintessential young rebel.
  5. The DVD of MATILDA: THE MOVIE has sold over 4.2 million copies.
  6. There have been over 6000 performances of MATILDA THE MUSICAL to date – in the West End, on Broadway and on tour across North America, the UK, Ireland, Australia and New Zealand.
  7. At 4 feet, 4 inches tall, Matilda Wormwood is the smallest leading lady in London’s West End. Over 93 girls have played the title role worldwide.
  8. MATILDA THE MUSICAL broke records at the 2012 Olivier Awards, where it won SEVEN awards. In the US, MATILDA won FOUR Tony Awards and a Tony Honor for Excellence in Theater for the four girls sharing the title role on Broadway. The production broke further records in Australia in 2016 by winning all 13 Helpmann Awards for which it was nominated.
  9. Kelly Clarkson says, “MATILDA pretty much changed my life when I was a kid; I loved it. I related to the character. She didn’t have much, and she was kind of against a lot. I’m not magical, so we didn’t have that in common, but I just related to her and I loved how the book made me a reader.”
  1. STAR WARS actress Daisy Ridley cites MATILDA as her all-time favourite movie. “It’s just joyous. When she begins, she has no idea of her potential and she goes on to do amazing things… It’s not like she’s this whole different person but she’s found love, she’s found acceptance. And she can make a book fly to her when she wants a bedtime story.”


Roald Dahl was a spy, ace fighter-pilot, chocolate historian and medical inventor. He was also the author of Charlie and the Chocolate Factory, Matilda, The BFG and many more brilliant stories.

He remains the World’s No.1 storyteller.

Born in Cardiff of Norwegian descent, Roald Dahl (1916–1990) joined the RAF at the age of 23 and began writing, initially for adults, after being injured in a plane crash during WW2.

Sitting in a hut at the bottom of his garden, surrounded by odd bits and pieces such as a suitcase (used as a footrest), his own hipbone (which he’d had replaced) and a heavy ball of metal foil (made from years’ worth of chocolate wrappers), he went on to write some of the world’s best-loved children’s stories. His first children’s story, James and the Giant Peach, was published in 1961, was a hit and every subsequent book became a best-seller.

Today, his stories are available in 61 languages and, by a conservative estimate, he has sold more than 250 million books. Many of these stories have also been adapted for stage and screen, including the 1971 film classic Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory, Wes Anderson’s acclaimed Fantastic Mr Fox, Steven Spielberg’s spectacular adaptation of The BFG, the multi-award winning Matilda The Musical from the RSC with music by Tim Minchin and the stage musical production of Charlie and the Chocolate Factory, currently playing to sell-out audiences on Broadway.

Roald Dahl Day is the biggest author-led cultural moment globally – and is growing annually. In a poll commissioned by Canon in May 2017, Roald Dahl was voted the Greatest Storyteller of All Time. In June 2017, three books by Roald Dahl – Charlie and the Chocolate Factory, The BFG and Matilda – topped a poll commissioned by the CILIP Carnegie and Kate Greenaway Medals to find the UK’s favourite children’s book. In a 2015 Sainsbury’s poll to mark World Book Day – and find 50 books every child should read by the age of 16 – Charlie and the Chocolate Factory was the most recommended book and Roald Dahl was the most recommended children’s author.

Roald Dahl said, “If you have good thoughts they will shine out of your face like sunbeams and you will always look lovely.”

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