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istock (blank book)

7 Things You May Not Know About Matilda

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istock (blank book)

Matilda, Roald Dahl’s 27th published book and one of his last for children, was released in 1988 to near universal acclaim. The novel broke sales records by moving more than a half a million copies in six months and went on to win the Children’s Book Award. But how much do you really know about Matilda and its delightfully precocious heroine?

1. Dahl had to write Matilda twice.

It took Dahl at least two years to write and rewrite Matilda. In 1988, the year the book was published, he told interviewer Todd McCormack, “I got it wrong. I’d spent six or eight or nine months writing it and right when I’d finished, it wasn’t right ... it just wasn’t right … I started the whole book again and rewrote every word.” He added, “Now I'm fairly happy with it. I think it’s OK, but it certainly wasn’t before.”

2. The subject was dear to Dahl.

In an interview with NPR’s All Things Considered in November 2013, Roald Dahl’s daughter Lucy explained that her father’s novel was, in part, about his love for books: “Matilda was one of the most difficult books for him to write. I think that there was a deep genuine fear within his heart that books were going to go away and he wanted to write about it.”

3. Matilda nearly died.

And not at the hands of Miss Trunchbull. In an earlier version of the book, Dahl killed off his rebellious, unruly heroine at the end of the book. That incarnation of Matilda was a terrible little girl who was always playing tricks on people and used her powers to help her teacher fix a horse race. In the end, she dies. Looks like all that rewriting was for the best.

4. Matilda was written in a garden.

Dahl famously wrote most of his works from a small, cozy hut in his garden. He worked in pencil on yellow legal notepaper while sitting in his mother’s old armchair with a specially made desktop across his lap. Lucy Dahl’s description of her father’s writing process is enchanting:

His hut was a sacred place. ... We were all allowed to go in there, but we only disturbed him when we absolutely needed to because he used to say that his hut was his nest. You would walk in and the smells were so familiar — that very old paper from filing cabinets. And he sat in his mother's old armchair and then put his feet up on an old leather trunk, and then on top of that he would get into an old down sleeping bag that he would put his legs into to keep him warm.… He always had six pencils with an electric sharpener that he would sharpen at the beginning of each session. His work sessions were very strict—he worked from 10 until 12 every day and then again from 3 until 5 every day.

5. You can visit Dahl’s hut.

The recreated hut is now on display at the Roald Dahl Museum and Storytelling Centre in Great Missenden, the village in Buckinghamshire, England where Dahl wrote most of his books. Dahl moved there from New York City in 1954 with his first wife, actress Patricia Neal, and lived there until his death 36 years later in 1990.

6. The library Matilda frequents is a real place.

Matilda, like most brilliant children, is a great reader. Her family of TV-watching halfwits finds this passion both disgusting and upsetting, so when her mother is off playing bingo in Aylesbury, Matilda—four years and three months old—walks herself down to the town library, where she can spend "two glorious hours sitting quietly by herself in a cosy corner devouring one book after another."

The library Dahl had in mind is an actual place, on the High Street in Great Missenden, just down the street from the Roald Dahl Museum. The first book for adults that young Matilda reads is Great Expectations, but her list, her horizons, and her vocabulary soon expand: Brighton Rock by Graham Greene, The Sound and the Fury by William Faulkner, Tess of the D’Urbervilles by Thomas Hardy, and many more that are more often found on college reading lists.

7. Matilda has ventured through mailboxes.

You’re probably already familiar with Matilda’s celebrated musical adaptation and the 1996 film version starring Mara Wilson. What you might not know is that Matilda and the Queen of England have something in common: In 2012, Royal Mail issued a set of six stamps featuring Quentin Blake’s iconic illustrations from Dahl’s books; Matilda was seen on the 76p stamp.

10 Fascinating Facts About The Scarlet Letter

These days, we tend to think about The Scarlet Letter in relation to high school students struggling with their English papers, but we didn’t always see the book that way. When Nathaniel Hawthorne published the novel on March 16, 1850, it was a juicy bestseller about an adulterous woman forced to wear a scarlet ‘A’ on her chest by a community steeped in religious hypocrisy. Here are 10 things you might not have known about the classic tome.


Hawthorne, who was born in Salem, Massachusetts, was aware of his messy Puritan heritage. His great-great-grandfather William Hathorne came to Salem in 1636. As the Massachusetts Bay delegate, he tried to rid the town of Quakers by having them whipped and dragged through the street half naked. His son, John Hathorne, was even worse. As a magistrate during the Salem witch trials of 1692, he examined more than one hundred accused witches, and found them all guilty. Hawthorne detested this legacy and distanced himself from his ancestors by adding the “W” to the spelling of his name.


Unable to support his family by publishing short stories, Hawthorne took a politically appointed post at the Salem Custom House in 1846. Three years later, he was fired because of a political shakeup. The loss of his job, as well as the death of his mother, depressed Hawthorne, but he was also furious at Salem. "I detest this town so much that I hate to go out into the streets, or to have people see me,” he said.

It was in this mood that he started The Scarlet Letter.


In 1846, Hawthorne's sister-in-law Elizabeth Peabody published the work of Hungarian linguist Charles Kraitsir. Two years later, it was discovered that Kraitsir’s wife had seduced several of his students at the University of Virginia. He left his wife and daughter in Philadelphia and fled to Peabody for help. Peabody responded by going to Philadelphia in an attempt to gain guardianship of the daughter. This didn’t go over so well with the wife. She followed Peabody back to Boston and confronted her husband. In response, Peabody and Kraitsir tried to get her committed to a lunatic asylum. The press got wind of the story and Kraitsir was skewered for looking weak and hiding behind Peabody’s skirts. Hawthorne watched as the scandal surrounding a woman’s affairs played out on the public stage, right as he was starting The Scarlet Letter.


Hawthorne must have known there was historical precedence for The Scarlet Letter. According to a 1658 law in Plymouth, people caught in adultery were whipped and forced “to weare two Capitall letters namely A D cut out in cloth and sowed on theire vpermost Garments on theire arme or backe.” If they ever took the letters off, they would be publicly whipped again. A similar law was enacted in Salem.

In the town of York (now in Maine) in 1651, near where Hawthorne’s family owned property, a woman named Mary Batchellor was whipped 40 lashes for adultery and forced to wear an ‘A’ on her clothes. She was married to Stephen Batchellor, a minister over 80 years old. Sound familiar?


In an 1871 issue of The Atlantic Monthly, editor James T. Fields wrote about being Hawthorne’s champion. Not only did he try to get Hawthorne reinstated in his Custom House post, Fields said he convinced Hawthorne to write The Scarlet Letter as a novel. One day, while trying to encourage the despondent writer ("'Who would risk publishing a book for me, the most unpopular writer in America?' 'I would,' said I"), Fields noticed Hawthorne’s bureau. He said he bet Hawthorne had already written something new and that it was in one of the drawers. Hawthorne, flabbergasted, pulled out a manuscript. “How in Heaven's name did you know this thing was there?” he said. He gave Fields the “germ” of The Scarlet Letter. Fields then persuaded Hawthorne to alter “the plan of that story” and write a full-sized book. The rest is history.

Or is it? Hawthorne’s wife Sophia said of Fields’s claims: “He has made the absurd boast that he was the sole cause of the Scarlet Letter being published!" She added that Edwin Percy Whipple was the one who encouraged Hawthorne.


Hester Prynne is a tall, dignified character who endures her outcast status with grace and strength. Although she has fallen to a low place as an adulteress with an illegitimate child, she becomes a successful seamstress and raises her daughter even though the authorities want to take the child away. As such, she’s a complex character who embodies what happens when a woman breaks societal rules. Hawthorne not only knew accomplished women such as Peabody and Margaret Fuller, he was writing The Scarlet Letter directly after the first women's rights convention in New York in 1848. He was one of the first American writers to depict “women’s rights, women’s work, women in relation to men, and social change,” according to biographer Brenda Wineapple.


As you probably know, Hawthorne hits you in the head with symbolism throughout The Scarlet Letter, starting with the characters’ names—Pearl for an unwanted child, Roger Chillingworth for a twisted, cold man, Arthur Dimmesdale for a man whose education cannot lead him to truth. From the wild woods to the rosebush by the jail to the embroidered ‘A’ itself, it’s easy to see why The Scarlet Letter is the book that launched a thousand literary essays.


In the 87,000-plus words that make up The Scarlet Letter, Hawthorne used “ignominy” 16 times, “ignominious” seven times, and “ignominiously” once. He apparently had affection for the word, which means dishonor, infamy, disgrace, or shame. Either that, or he needed a thesaurus.


While the reviews were generally positive, others condemned The Scarlet Letter as smut. For example, this 1851 review by Reverend Arthur Cleveland Coxe: “Why has our author selected such a theme? … Is it, in short, because a running underside of filth has become as requisite to a romance, as death in the fifth act to a tragedy? Is the French era actually begun in our literature? … we honestly believe that "the Scarlet Letter" has already done not a little to degrade our literature, and to encourage social licentiousness.” This kind of rhetoric didn’t hurt sales. In fact, The Scarlet Letter’s initial print run of 2500 books sold out in 10 days.


The Scarlet Letter made Hawthorne a well-known writer, allowed him to purchase a home in Concord, and insured an audience for books like The House of Seven Gables. However, The Scarlet Letter didn’t make Hawthorne rich. Despite its success in the U.S. and abroad, royalties weren’t that great—overseas editions paid less than a penny per copy. Hawthorne only made $1500 from the book over the remaining 14 years of his life. He was never able to escape the money troubles that plagued him.

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Pop Culture
Is the True Identity of Voldemort's Pet Snake Hidden in the New Fantastic Beasts Trailer?
Warner Bros.
Warner Bros.

In the Harry Potter series, many of Voldemort's horcruxes were give rich backstories, like Tom Riddle's diary, Marvolo Gaunt's ring, and of course, Harry himself. But the most personal horcrux containing a fragment of Voldemort's soul is also the biggest mystery. Voldemort carries Nagini the snake with him wherever he goes, but we still don't know how the two met or where Nagini came from. Fans may not have to wait much longer to find out: One fan theory laid out by Vanity Fair suggests that Nagini is actually a cursed witch, and her true identity will be revealed in the next Fantastic Beasts movie.

On March 13, the trailer dropped for Fantastic Beasts: The Crimes of Grindelwald, the second installment in the Harry Potter prequel series written by J.K. Rowling. The clips include lots of goodies for fans—including a first look at Jude Law as young Dumbledore—but one potential bombshell requires closer examination.

Pay attention at the 1:07 mark in the video below and you'll see Claudia Kim, the actress playing a new, unnamed character in the film. While we don't know much about her yet, Pottermore tells us that she is a Maledictus or “someone who suffers from a ‘blood curse’ that turns them into a beast.” This revelation led some fans to suspect the beast she transforms into is Nagini, the snake destined to be Voldemort's companion.

That isn't the only clue backing up the theory. The second piece of evidence comes in the trailer at the 1:17 mark: There, you can see an advertisement for a "wizarding circus," featuring a poster of a woman resembling Kim constricted a by massive snake.

If Kim's character does turn out to be Nagini, the theory still doesn't explain how she eventually joins forces with Voldemort and becomes his horcrux. Fans will have to wait until the film's release on November 16, 2018 for answers. Fortunately, there are plenty of other Harry Potter fan theories to study up on in the meantime.

[h/t Vanity Fair]


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