On Tuesday 13th September, I finally saw Matilda The Musical.
It was a special perfomance celebrating the centenary of Roald Dahl’s birth and it turned out to be every bit as whizzpoppingly gloriumptious as can possibly be imagined. Pure. Phizz-whizzing. Magic.
Matilda holds a special place in my heart – not least because it’s about a bookish girl who pwns all the bullies.
She also the literary character I felt closest to (followed by Sophie from The BFG) growing up – strong-minded, smart, sassy, an enthusiast in life. She’s one of the many fictional heroines that inspired my tagline: Beware of a girl with a book.
But other than being the rebellious nerd’s handbook to growing up good, it also has a message I don’t think any other book makes quite so brilliantly: books are magic (uniquely, portably so) and they give us power – super powers – that we barely notice.
1. Super Intelligence
Reading makes you smarter. Fact. There’s evidence to show that reading boosts ability in the three major categories of intelligence described by psychologists – crystallised, fluid, and emotional (if you want to geek out on these, there’s a handy article here). As a superpower, super smarts can make you brilliant at learning new things, seeing connections others can’t see, understanding the impossible, and making sense of the world around you. Careful with all that worldly insight though – knowledge is a dangerous thing.
Technically everyone can mind read. “Mind reading” is the phrase used by psychologists to describe our ability to intuit how others are thinking based on how they behave not just how they speak. But reading boosts us into telepathic regions. It helps us to develop much more sophisticated emotional intelligence than non-readers and consequently means that as this super power grows, readers are able to instinctively read minds, foresee actions, and even dabble in mind control.
In the words of Dr Seuss: books can take you anywhere. They’re doorways into other countries, alternate worlds, different lives. Books give you the power to travel as fast and as far as you like. Our imaginations are powerful things and with a little bit of word magic, you can visit Africa at breakfast but be home in time for tea.
4. Time Travel & Manipulation
Following on from the ability to teleport, books can turn you into a time traveller – not only by giving you access to parts of history (and even sneaky peaks into potential futures (a la much of science fiction) – but due to a little thing called time distortion, which is when your perception of time doesn’t quite keep to “world time.” It goes faster (when you’re having fun) or slower (when you’re … not). Reading gives you an awesome ability to do this – and with a little bit of practice you can learn to use it to make more time for you and the things you love.
6. Shape Shifting
By cracking open a book, you’re able to step into someone else’s shoes, inhabit their life, become part of their story. Because books are uniquely interactive spaces, your empathy skills will help you slip into a different life with ease. Use with caution though – there’s a finer line between ‘you’ and ‘other’ than you may realise, and it’s important to be yourself.
6. Super Strength
As touched on earlier – reading boosts your emotional intelligence. But the act of reading does much more than just help you understand other people. Reading empowers physical and mental strength. People who read are statistically more likely to complete their fitness regimes and report lower anxiety levels; it also helps reduce symptoms of depression and your risks of dementia. Part of this may be because reading helps you understand yourself just a little more every time you feel a connection to a character, your heart tugged on by an action, your spine thrill with something exciting or new. Science particularly endorses fiction readers as pleasure reading is linked to stronger, healthier and happier lives. So use your super strength wisely and don’t forget to pass on some of that strength to others.
In Matilda, Roald Dahl’s precocious heroine develops the ability to move objects with her mind. It starts small but with diligent practice, she’s able to move dozens of objects at once, turning into Ms Trunchbull’s personal poltergeist. Now reading may not help you become the next Peeves (to mix my literary allusions) but it does you the power to change the world, to move it and make it work to your will. Ok, it might take longer and it might mean that you have to harness some of the other powers in your arsenal first – but you can be the change. Put the things just not right, right. Fight your causes. Follow your values. And remember, with great power comes great responsibility.
So how about it, friends and scribblers? Ready to be heroes?
Read below for how you can become a real superhero.
Literacy is a power all us somewhat take for granted but it’s one of the most powerful abilities we have.
Illiteracy is a global crisis. Impacting over 750 million lives – one in ten people alive today. It costs the world $1.19 trillion a year.
But it’s almost invisible.
In the UK, less than 1% of people would be considered completely illiterate – but around 16% are considered functionally illiterate. This means around 5.2 million adults in the UK have literacy levels at or below your average 11-year-old. Moreover, British teenagers are considered among the least literate in the developed world.
“If you see inequality and poverty, you’re seeing the impact of illiteracy. An inability to access learning through literacy makes people more likely to experience poverty and suffer social and economic hardship. This in turn means their children are less likely to be literate, which creates a vicious cycle.”
– Project Literacy
Our ability to access words is a superpower.
And it’s one we can share with others by encouraging reading, showing its power, spreading the fun like Roald Dahl and Matilda.
If you’re interested, I’ve been looking into reading volunteering opportunities and other initiatives around London and UK.
Others in the UK include: Beanstalk (one-t0-one volunteering with children at school who have fallen behind on reading), Save the Children (volunteer as a reading helper at a primary school) and ReadEasy (helping adults learn to read).