We heart Roald

Sunday Star-Times - Sunday Magazine - - NEWS -

To­day we pro­file Tim Minchin whose cre­ative ge­nius spawned Matilda The Mu­si­cal, which is com­ing to New Zealand and prom­ises to be awe­some.

Of course, those of you who are ei­ther young or rais­ing the young will be fa­mil­iar with Matilda The Book, by an­other cre­ative ge­nius, and one whose own ec­cen­tric­i­ties were more than a match for any Minchin might pos­sess.

Yes... Roald Dahl. Adul­tery, cru­elty, misog­yny, anti-Semitism – much has been lev­elled at the au­thor, most of it pretty well-founded I think. Cer­tainly any par­ent who has read Matilda or, frankly, any of Dahl’s books with one ear open to the un­der­ly­ing tone would con­cede the guy had some com­pli­cated feel­ings about women. (Or maybe, not com­pli­cated enough.)

But Dahl un­der­stood kids. He un­der­stood 20th-cen­tury kids and he un­der­stood the kids yet to be born who de­vour his books now. He knew that, to chil­dren, sugar is crack co­caine (in a good way) and he sprin­kled it lib­er­ally through all of his books.

He knew that, if you got the par­ents out of the story early on, more fun would be had by all. I re­mem­ber stick­ing on an au­dio book of James and the Gi­ant Peach and seeing my daugh­ter, aged about 4, gasp with sur­prise and de­light as the reader an­nounced in his ca­sual plutey tones that James’ par­ents had been snuffed out by a rhi­noc­eros es­caped from the zoo. “Are they com­ing back?” she asked, as­tounded. No Sweet­heart, they’re dead and gone. And poor James is about to be sent to live with not one but two aunts who are both in their own ways – well it is Roald – phys­i­cally repellent and cruel.

My daugh­ter loved that book. But not as much as she loved Matilda.

The par­ents in Matilda are a waste of space. And the main fe­male char­ac­ter, the head­mistress Miss Trunch­ball – well, she’s stri­dent, bossy, ugly, ter­ri­fy­ing, bad. I guess you wouldn’t have to strive to find a misog­y­nis­tic un­der­tone there.

And sugar is bad for you. But the kids can’t get enough.

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