Two of the greatest heroines in children’s literature were created by Roald Dahl. Their names, Sophie and Matilda.
Up until the 1980’s Roald Dahl’s lead characters were always male. Mostly young boys who, against the odds conquer the adult world, or simply end up in a Giant Peach across the Atlantic and who can forget the Fantastic Mr Fox. Yet in the 80’s two heroines emerge, the first is Sophie.
The BFG introduces us to Sophie, an orphan who is having trouble sleeping. Sophie’s name came about as a dedication to his granddaughter (who in later life became a model, married jazz pianist Jamie Cullum, had two children and has also dipped her ink into the world of writing).
Sophie eventually becomes friends with a giant The BFG – Big, Friendly, Giant, who unlike his peers does not eat humans. Sophie and The BFG team up and together trick the giant bullies, after convincing the Queen of England to help them.
Matilda however has her book named after her and tells the tale of a young girl who does not quite fit into her life. Matilda loves books and befriends her teacher Miss Honey. Miss Honey recognises Matilda’s abilities and tries to get her moved up to a higher class. Miss Honey however is thwarted by Head Teacher, Miss Trunchbull. Miss Trunchbull is a bully and enjoys inventing cruel over the top punishments for her students. It also transpires that she is Miss Honey’s Aunt and is withholding her inheritance from her.
Both Sophie and Matilda have one thing in common under the surface both a simmering with a desire for revenge. Sophie is pitted against a hoard of child eating giants and Matilda against the tyrannical, Miss Trunchbull. Both succeed in overcoming these obstacles through their wily intelligence.
Miss Trunchbull sums it up by stating: “a bad girl is a far more dangerous creature than a bad boy. What’s more, they’re much harder to squash. Squashing a bad girl is like trying to squash a bluebottle. You bang down on it and the darn thing isn’t there.”
Since then many un-squashable girls both little and big, have taken to heart the stories of Sophie and Matilda. I once read that Matilda made being a nerd cool. In his stories Dahl always championed the under-dog and saw that bullies never prospered.
These characters/books remind us, just as they did for Matilda : That we are not alone.