Five fantastic facts about Matilda

Posted by
Roald Dahl HQ
Posted on
4:30pm, 18th August

Think you know everything there is to know about our Matilda Wormwood? Test yourself with our five fascinating facts...

Published in 1988, the story of young genius Matilda Wormwood and her horrible parents, ogrish headmistress and kindly class teacher, has been delighting audiences ever since. It's been turned into a now-iconic film - released in 1996 and starring Danny DeVito and Mara Wilson - and a multi-award-winning musical, now playing in London's West End, on Broadway, in Sydney and on tour in the USA.

But just how much do you know about everyone's favourite  child prodigy and reading enthusiast? We think you might be surprised by a few of these facts...

1. Matilda Wormwood started out as a "wicked" child

Roald Dahl wrote at least one draft of Matilda that was very, very different to the one we now know. In that early version, Matilda was a wicked child who plagued her poor, kind parents and caused havoc at school, ultimately redeeming herself through helping her teacher - an early version of Miss Honey - get out of financial difficulty by fixing a horse race...

For more on the early draft, check out Roald Dahl Museum archivist Rachel White's Top 10 Archive Treasures.

2. Upon finishing his first Matilda draft, Roald Dahl thought he "got it wrong"

In a rare interview, recorded in 1988 - the year Matilda was published - Roald Dahl talked about how, in creating this "wicked" child, he knew he'd got the story "wrong," saying:

I hadn't bothered to go back and rewrite [that] for several chapters...

After finishing the draft and reflecting on it, Roald went back and rewrote a great deal of the story, creating the villainous Wormwoods and turning Matilda into the thoughtful child we now know. 

You can listen to that very audio recording of Roald Dahl talking about Matilda right here.

3. Mr Wormwood was based on a real-life character from Roald Dahl's hometown of Great Missenden

In Storyteller, Roald Dahl's biographer Donald Sturrock tells us that Matilda's father, the devious Mr Wormwood, was based on a man called Ginger Henderson. Ginger owned the filling station in Roald's hometown of Great Missenden and was thus also the inspiration for a character called Gordon Hawes, who appears in some of Roald's short stories.

"'Ginger was his great friend," Donald Sturrock quotes Roald's nephew Nicholas Logsdail as saying. "'ginger hair, ginger moustache and a total black market dealer... Roald would often extol the virtues of his dishonesty.'"

Take a look at Storyteller for more on Roald Dahl's life and inspirations.

4. In the RSC's musical adaptation of Matilda, Miss Trunchbull is played by a man

Actor Bertie Carvel originated the character of Miss Trunchbull onstage in the RSC's multi-award winning Matilda The Musical - first in Stratford-upon-Avon, then in London, and later on Broadway. He said of playing Matilda's horrible headmistress: 

She's got all kinds of complications to her psychology. She's a pretty filthy human being, yet we of sort of love those characters.


See here for more from Bertie Carvel.

Matilda The Musical is now touring the USA, as well as continuing to play to packed audiences in London's West End and on Broadway. The show also has its Australian premiere in Sydney this week. For more information, visit the official website.

5. Matilda was Roald Dahl's last long children's book

Although he wrote several shorter stories and poems in the last few years of his life - including Rhyme Stew, Esio Trot and The Minpins - Matilda was the last long children's story Roald Dahl wrote before his death in November 1990. It was also one of the few of his stories to win an award in the UK within his lifetime, scooping the Federation of Children's Book Groups Award when it was published in 1988.