Listening Corner

30th June 1995 at 01:00
MATILDA. Age group: 5-plus By Roald Dahl. Collins, Pounds 6.80

Roald Dahl's classic of the little girl who loved reading and thus in the end saved both herself and her sweet infant teacher from the evil Philistines who surround them (her parents, the teacher's aunt) is dramatised with Peggy Mount as the ghastly Miss Trunchbull. Ironically, in the effort to make the adaptation more "dramatic", some of Dahl's best passages on the wonders of literature have been cut and references which survive like one to Hemingway have the effect of having been included to entertain a listening adult rather than, as I am sure was Dahl's intention, pique the curiosity of child readers. The story is robust enough to transcend any pruning and Ms Mount gives a highly enjoyable reading, but something important has been lost. Dahl's snobbery and sadism are easy to spot the vicious treatment of children in the classroom, the sneering at the "commonness" of Matilda's parents. His positive qualities, most particularly his passion for English language and literature, his almost religious care with words, are harder to encapsulate but are what give his work its true vigour. If the tape draws children to the book, well and good. If it is a substitute, not so good.

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