I’m reading Roald Dahl’s Matilda to my sons at the moment, and it’s the first time I’ve looked at it since I was a child myself.
The book is, at its basic level, about loneliness. It’s also about books.
‘From then on, Matilda would visit the library only once a week in order to take out new books and return the old ones. Her own small bedroom now became her reading-room and there she would sit and read most afternoons, often with a mug of hot chocolate beside her… It was pleasant to take a hot drink up to her room and have it beside her as she sat in her silent room reading in the empty house in the afternoons. The books transported her into new worlds and introduced her to amazing people who lived exciting lives. She went on olden-day sailing ships with Joseph Conrad. She went to Africa with Ernest Hemingway and to India with Rudyard Kipling. She travelled all over the world while sitting in her little room in an English village.’
Whenever I read that passage my skin shivers and my eyes fill with tears. It captures perfectly the strange blend of loneliness and happiness that is reading. And of course, the way that books transport us to far away places.
When I paused in mid-reading and mentioned this to my sons, their eyes lit up with understanding.
‘Yes!’ my 10 year old agreed. ‘You can even travel through time! Or to outer space!’
‘You can visit the dinosaurs,’ my 7 year old agreed.
We all grinned at each other, tucked up tight in the boys’ quiet bedroom as night deepened outside. As though we had discovered a precious secret.
Roald Dahl was a truly wonderful writer. And I think Matilda calls to the introverted little reader in all of us. Don’t you?