by Roald Dahl
Illustrated by Quentin Blake
Published by Jonathan Cape, London, 1988
Book dimensions: H 239 x W 160 x D 45mm
Box dimensions: H 520 x W 264 x D 85mm
Sample board #64
Bound in 2023
Private Collection, UK

About the book:

Matilda is a children’s novel written by British writer Roald Dahl and illustrated by Quentin Blake. The story is about a young girl named Matilda Wormwood, who has an incredible intellect and magic powers, including the ability to levitate objects. She is a lover of books, and can read stories meant for adults by the age of four. Her clear intelligence goes unnoticed by her uncaring family, who often treat her badly.

The school that Matilda attends is run by the tyrannical headmistress Miss Trunchbull who is mean and abusive to the pupils, terrorizing them with difficult maths and spelling questions. When children break the rules she locks them in the dreaded, ‘Chokey’, which closely resembles an iron maiden. The Chokey is designed to be so narrow that no one can sit or squat while in it and is filled with broken glass sticking out in the walls with nails on the door.

On one occasion Matilda’s friend Lavender places a newt in Miss Trunchbull’s water glass, sending her into a frenzy. She blames Matilda for placing it there even though she didn’t do it; this angers Matilda so much that she uses telekinesis to knock the glass over, dumping the newt onto Miss Trunchbull.

Matilda becomes friendly with her kind teacher, Miss Honey, who turns out to be Miss Trunchbull’s niece. Matilda has an idea to get back at Miss Trunchbull and help Miss Honey who has beem mistreated by her mean aunt. She practices her powers until she can make objects move in the air, and then when Miss Trunchbull comes into class one day, Matilda makes a piece of chalk move on its own and write a threatening message to her. Terrified that it’s from Magnus (Miss Honey’s deceased father), she leaves town for good.

At the end of the story, Miss Honey adopts Matilda as her family are moving to Spain to escape her father, Mr Wormwood, going to prison for selling stolen cars.

About the binding:

  • A full leather binding, bound in black goatskin.
  • The boards of the book both have hinged brass panels attached to them, each covered in black calf.
  • The black calf is washed with thinned down acrylic paint to give the appearance of a chalk board, with both white leather onlays and embroidered detail applied to the calf.
  • The panels have concealed magnets embedded into them to keep them closed, and each board had a small tab of leather to help open them.
  • Behind the hinged panels are some ‘hidden’ children’s drawings, created using a variety of onlays and embroidery to build up the designs.
  • The children’s drawings are inlaid into card on the inside of the hinged panels.
  • The chalk board is surrounded by thin wooden fillets, painted black, to give the appearance of a frame around the chalk board.
  • The spine has two raised bands, that match up with the wooden frame to carry it around from the front to the back of the book.
  • The edges of the binding are coloured with solid black acrylic paint on the top and foredge, and multicoloured dots on the bottom edge.
  • The double-core endband at the head is covered in black leather with a single white thread detail, and the double-core endband at the tail is sewn in multicoloured threads to match the edge decoration.
  • The box is made of oak, and is designed to look like the ‘Chokey’ cupboard, with a panelled door and brass door knob to open it.
  • The box is lined with felt and paper, and the book sits within a small tray at the base of the box.
  • Within the inner walls of the box are a series of acrylic ‘shards’ to look like broken glass.
  • The title of the book is drawn in rusty tacks on the door of the box.

Design Description:

The story of Matilda created so many possibilities for the design of this book, made all the more difficult as the iconic Quentin Blake illustrations were so hard to compete with.

The majority of the story is set at Crunchem Hall, the primary school that Matilda attends. The book was set around the 1950s so I decided to make the whole cover of the binding like an old-fashioned blackboard in a school with chalk ‘writing’ on the board of significant parts within the book. The chalkboard is split across the front and back of the binding, with the front cover showing the ‘easy’ two-times table that all the children are expected to know alongside the much more difficult sums that Matilda is already able to work out in her head. Above it is sewn the sentence that Miss Honey writes to test her pupils:

“Miss Honey went to the blackboard and wrote with her white chalk the sentence, I have already begun to learn how to read long sentences. She had purposely made it difficult and she knew that there were precious few five-year-olds around who would be able to manage it.”

On the back of the blackboard is scribed the menacing “message” that Matilda writes out in chalk with her telekinetic powers for Miss Trunchbull to read:

“Give my Jenny her wages, give my Jenny back her house, then get out of here, if you don’t, I will come and get you, I will get you like you got me, I am watching you Agatha,”

Miss Trunchbull reads this believing it is being written by Magnus, her brother and father of Miss Honey, whom she murdered. Because she sees the chalk floating and writing on its own she really does believe it to be Magnus’s ghost and she has a panic attack and faints. The children and staff revive her, but she storms out of the school the next day, scared out of her wits, she is ultimately defeated by her superstitious and ridiculous fear of ghosts. The broken chalk that Matilda used to write the words is shown on the bottom of the binding, broken in two after it fell to the floor.

Within the boards are a collection of very bright and colourful children’s drawings, hidden from view by the closing chalkboard panels. In the film version of Matilda, the classroom has colourful pictures up all over the walls and they are concealed when Miss Trunchbull enters the room. The pictures are largely based on drawings that my children did (they were 6 and 7 at the time of making this book). Some of the pictures are done in direct reference to the story and also to the Quentin Blake illustrations. Notable pieces include: the epicure that Matilda makes up about her teacher Miss Honey; ‘Chopper’ the talking parrot who belongs to Matilda’s friend Fred; and Esio Trot, which was Roald Dahl’s last novel about a tortoise (Esio Trot is tortoise spelt backwards).

For the endpapers and doublures I dedicated one side to Matilda’s father, Mr Harry Wormwood, who was a used car salesman and ran Wormwood Motors, which sold used cars for more than what they were worth (especially since they were defunct and quite broken) while also dealing in stolen car parts. He regularly fiddled with the mileage on these cars, hence on the front doublure and endpaper I illustrated an odometer (or odograph). An odometer is an instrument used for measuring the distance traveled by a vehicle, and behind a cut-out window in the endpaper I illustrated the number counter as if it had all been turned backwards.

Matilda’s mother, Mrs. Wormwood, plays bingo five times a week. When she isn’t watching television at home, she’s in the next town over at the bingo hall so I printed a stack of bingo cards on the back endpaper and doublure as a homage to her obsession with the game.

The container for the box is made as a reference to the ‘Chokey’ cupboard that Miss Trunchbull locks children in if they misbehave. The box is much longer than the book to give the appearance of it being very long and tall, with a door at the front to look like a cupboard. There are acrylic shards attached to the inner sides of the box as the real chokey had broken glass sticking out of the walls. The inner panel of the door has paper “nails” stuck to it, as the door of the chokey had nails sticking out of it so that the children were forced to stand still within the cupboard for fear of getting spiked by them or cut by the glass.

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