A screengrab from the Matilda movie of Matilda reading a book on a sofa, with a photo of the original Matilda book cover

Matilda turns 35: Five things you didn’t know about Roald Dahl’s Matilda

We apologise in advance for inadvertently calling you old but the Roald Dahl classic Matilda is marking a milestone birthday this year: 35 whole years old.

The children’s book was Dahl’s 27th, and one of his last written specifically for children. It was also, believe it or not, Dahl’s second attempt at the book. When the final book launched in October 1988, Dahl told an interviewer that he’d spent about nine months writing Matilda before realising, once he had finished, that it “just wasn’t right.”

Dahl (metaphorically) ripped Matilda 1.0 up and started on Matilda 2.0, which sold more than 500,000 copies in the first six months and scooped the prestigious Children’s Book Award.

The book has since inspired movies, a musical and a BBC audiobook which, believe it or not, you can listen to right here on LiSTNR.


And in the interests of celebrating the Matilda we all know and love, here are five more fun facts you didn’t know about Matilda.

Matilda almost died

Yeah, remember that first iteration of the book we mentioned? We can only assume that the original ending was one of the reasons Dahl wasn’t happy with the finished product. In the first version of Matilda, the titular character wasn’t so much a lovable, precocious genius as a pretty terrible little girl who spent a lot of time playing tricks on people. She also, allegedly, used her powers for bad, helping her teacher fix a horse race.

Matilda was born in a garden

Not literally, of course. But, like most of Dahl’s work, the book was written in his garden hut. According to Dahl’s daughter Lucy, the author had a strict writing schedule – from 10am to 12pm, and then again from 3pm to 5pm, every day – which he carried out in an old armchair with a specially constructed writing desk.

The armchair belonged to his mother, and Lucy says he propped his feet up on “old leather trunk”, atop which he’d drape a sleeping bag to keep his legs warm.

Matilda’s library actually does exist

Just like Dahl himself, Matilda was quite the bookworm – although her parents did nothing if not discourage her passion. So Matilda starts to take herself down to the town library to indulge her passions (while her mother is at bingo, of course).

And while Matilda’s library may be in Aylesbury, the real location it’s based on is in Great Missenden, just down the road from the Roald Dahl Museum.

Actually, Matilda’s love of books is very much based on Dahl’s

In an interview with NPR in 2013, Lucy Dahl said Matilda was based, partly, on her father’s love of books, and his fear that books would one day disappear.

She said: “Matilda was one of the most difficult books for him to write. I think that there was a deep genuine fear within his heart that books were going to go away and he wanted to write about it.”

One of Matilda’s greatest fans was responsible for the movie adaptation

Not just responsible for the adaptation, but responsible for directing, starring in and narrating the 1996 Matilda movie. Yes, we’re talking about Danny DeVito.

The actor reportedly had never heard of the book until one of his children brought the book home. The story goes that as Danny and his wife Rhea Pearlman (who also plays Matilda’s mother in the movie) started acting out the book for their kids, they realised what a great movie the story would make – and, as they say, the rest is history.

Matilda is just one of a handful of premium BBC audiobook classics for kids, including Alice in Wonderland, Peter Pan and The Lion, The Witch and The Wardrobe.

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