We heart Roald
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.