Children’s Responses to Heroism in Roald Dahl’s Matilda
The paper presents findings from a reader response study conducted in February 2013 with 150 children aged 7–11 in which they discussed extracts and clips from Roald Dahl’s Matilda (1988) and its cinematic adaptation (1996). Dahl and Matilda were chosen because they provoke emphatic responses from adults, often commenting on the effects of Dahl upon young readers, and thus exemplify the uneasy interface between adult perceptions of children’s literature and the child reader. Frequently the criticism and theory applied to children’s literature are an adult’s comments speculating on the child’s interpretation of the child character created by an adult and, with a few exceptions, critical theory surrounding children’s literature has shied away from reader response studies. After reviewing the critical literature surrounding the book and film of Matilda, we summarise the responses to these texts given by the children in a variety of formats. The children’s understanding of heroism and their responses and reactions to Matilda as a hero-character are used to reflect upon the established scholarship. The paper aims to balance literary adult criticism with audience interpretations of this very interesting heroine and in doing so add to our understanding and appreciation of the effects and effectiveness of Dahl’s work.
KeywordsHero Heroism Reader response Roald Dahl Matilda
Thanks to the students of Talbot Combined School, Moordown Saint John’s Church of England Primary School, and Malmesbury Park Primary School.
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