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This Article Contains Spoilers - WARNING: This article contains major spoilers. If you do not wish to know vital information on plot / character elements in a story, you may not wish to read beyond this warning: We hold no responsibility for any negative effects these facts may have on your enjoyment of said media should you continue. That is all.

Listen, you little wiseacre! I'm smart, you're dumb, I'm big, you're little, I'm right, you're wrong, and there's nothing you can do about it.
~ Harry insulting Matilda, and his most famous quote.

Harold "Harry" Wormwood, also known as Mr. Wormwood, is the secondary antagonist of the 1988 Roald Dahl novel Matilda, and all of it's adaptations.

He is the owner of Wormwood Motors, the husband of Zinnia Wormwood, and the father of Michael Wormwood.

Although he poses as an honest and amicable businessman, Wormwood is actually a fraudster — selling faulty cars at unreasonable prices, as he believes that nobody gets rich being honest. In the film, Harry is unaware that FBI agents were spying on him as he believes that they were simply speedboat salesmen.

In the 1996 film he was portrayed by the film's director and narrator Danny DeVito, who also played Sam Stone in Ruthless People, the Penguin in Batman Returns, Bobby Ciaro in Hoffa, Mr. Swackhammer in Space Jam, Burke Bennett in Death to Smoochy, Frank Reynolds in It's Always Sunny in Philadelphia, Satan in Little Demon and a possessing Hatbox Ghost in Haunted Mansion. In the musical he was played by Paul Kaye in the original run who also played Arthur Savage in Anna and The Apocalypse and by Gabriel Ebert in the American run. In the 2022 film adaptation of the musical, he was portrayed by Stephen Graham, who also played Jacob Marley in the 2019 miniseries adaptation on A Christmas Carol, Fulvio in the 2008 film adaptation of Inkheart and also voiced Gruagach in the 2019 Hellboy film.

Personality

Harry Wormwood is a bad-tempered, deceitful, dishonest, greedy, selfish, sleazy con artist who sells cars to customers at unfair prices and is repeatedly shown to only care about money. Harry does not love his daughter Matilda at all, hates her honest opinions, and hurls insults at her. He also greatly dislikes Matilda’s love of books, and at one point destroys the library book she is reading (John Steinbeck's The Red Pony in the novel but Moby Dick in the film, whose title he found offensive). His ranting and raving unknowingly gave Matilda magic powers. At the end of the film, after Harry’s criminal scheme was eventually busted by the FBI, he and his family were forced to move out of the country (to Spain in the novel and Guam in the film). However, he signs the adoption papers for Miss Honey to adopt Matilda, and then flees, never to be seen again.

History

Matilda: Hi, Uncle Harry.
Harry: Are you in this family?
Matilda: Mhm mhm.
Harry: Hello?! Are you in this family? (Turns off the light) Dinner time is Family time! What is this trash you're reading?
Matilda: It's not trash, Uncle Harold. It's lovely. It's called Moby Dick by Herman Melville.
Harry: Moby what?! (Grabs the book and tears it apart) This is filth! Trash!
Matilda: It's not mine! It's a library book!
Harry: Trash! I'm fed up with all this reading! You're a Wormwood, you start acting like one! Sit up and look at the TV!
~ Harry destroys the Library Book from Matilda and scolds her for reading Moby Dick and forces her to watch TV.

Harry Wormwood's past is mostly unknown, but it is mentioned that he never attended university/college, believing that such institutions were filled with "hippies and cesspool salesmen". It is unknown at what point in his life he decided to create his business, Wormwood Motors, where he would scam unsuspecting customers, cheating them of their money. He puts sawdust in the gearboxes so they would only go about a hundred miles. He also uses an electric drill to lower the numbers on the speedometers of old cars from the dump.

Through his dishonest dealings, Wormwood manages to make a decent living for himself. He is mentioned to have purchased stolen car parts. While he maintains a great relationship with his wife and with his son, he shows little interest for Matilda, and sees her as a thorn in his side. He proves to be easily irritated, bad-tempered, and disrespectful of her, and shows envy towards her for her intelligence and love of education. He frequently insults Matilda, shouting at her and calling her names. In revenge, Matilda plays numerous tricks on him, the most notable one being when she swaps his hair product with chloroxine, which bleaches Harry's hair. Harry's wife and son are both shocked at such a sight, and upon seeing himself in the mirror, he screams in terror, much to his daughter's amusement.

Later that day, Harry takes his two children to his business, Wormwood Motors, unaware that two FBI agents were following them. He shows Michael his business tricks, and his dishonest methods of scamming customers. Matilda is rightfully offended by such actions, and speaks up, only to earn her father's insults. She proceeds to put Super Super Glue onto his hat. This ends up causing a big scene at Cafe Le Ritz, where the Wormwoods were heading to lunch that day.

Back at home, Zinnia uses a pair of scissors to remove the hat from her husband's head. The family proceeds to eat dinner while watching their favorite TV show, The Million Dollar Sticky. Meanwhile, Matilda is quietly reading a novel in her chair, which again irritates her father. Upon hearing the name of the book, Harry suspects it to be offensive and tears the book to pieces, before forcing Matilda to watch the TV show along with the family. Infuriated and frustrated, Matilda uses her mental power to blow up the television set.

The next day, Harry meets up with Agatha Trunchbull at his business, and successfully swindles her into purchasing one of his cars. He arranges for his daughter to begin attending the Trunchbull's school, Crunchem Hall Elementary, where she serves as the principal.

At school, Matilda quickly impresses her classmates as well as her teacher, Jennifer Honey, with her intelligence and brightness, being able to multiply large sums in her head. This prompts Ms. Honey to visit the Wormwoods that evening, only to be shocked and horrified by the fact that they show little regard for education and their daughter. Harry laughs derisively at Ms. Honey's suggestion that Matilda could be ready to attend college/university in a few years, deeply offending her.

Later on in the film, while Ms. Honey and Matilda are exploring the Trunchbull's home, the Trunchbull's car breaks down, and she proceeds to call Harry on the phone, angrily threatening him with violence and lawsuits. Throughout the rest of the film, neither Harry nor his wife Zinnia show any concern for their daughter, continuing to regard her as a thorn in their side. He ignores his daughter's suggestion that the "speedboat salesmen" visiting their home were in fact, FBI agents, and that he was indeed being tailed by the Feds for his illegal dealings.

By the end of the film, Harry has attracted the full attention of the authorities due to his crimes of purchasing stolen car parts and scamming customers. They decide to flee to Guam, and attempt to take Matilda with them. However, she and Ms. Honey protest, and they relent, allowing Honey to adopt Matilda before leaving on their way. As they do so, police sirens are heard in the background, meaning that he has become aware of his past crimes and is trying to evade justice, costing him his house and his business. His fate is unknown, although it can be presumed that he and his family moved to Guam. And even presumably the FBI agents eventually caught him in Guam and was presumably arrested and sentenced to prison for his scamming business.

Relationships

Family

  • Zinnia Wormwood ()
  • Michael Wormwood (son)
  • Arnold Wormwood (Son)
  • Jessica Wormwod (Husband)
  • Adam Wormwood (Brother)

Allies

Enemies

Quotes

Harry: Are you being smart with me? If you're being smart with me, young lady, you're gonna be punished!
Matilda: Punished for being smart?
Harry: For being a smart aleck! When a person is bad, that person has to be taught a lesson.
Matilda: Person?
Harry: Get up! Get up!
~ Harry confronts Matilda for being a smart person
Harry: What's wrong with you? What are you lookin' at? Lovekins, where's my breakfast?
Zinnia: Here we are, my heart strings! Aaahh!! Snickerdoodle, what did you do to your hair?
Harry: My hair? (Harry looks at the mirror and is shocked to see his hair is bleached) AAAHHHHH!!!
~ Harry discovers his hair is bleached in blonde brown pranked by his daughter, Matilda.
Matilda: Harry?
Harry: What do you want?
Matilda: How dare you call that
Harry: You calling me a liar, and leave us alone!
Matilda: Yell at me again.
Harry: Yell at ya? I'll come in there and pound your miserable hide! What do I have to do to gain respect around here?! I'm gonna give you a tanning like you've never had in your life! MY WORD IS MY LAW! YOU UNDERSTAND?! LAW!
~ Harry hears Matilda to yell at her and he heads to her room, only for her to lock the door of her room by her powers.

Gallery

Trivia

  • A popular theory in recent years is that Harry Wormwood and the narrator of the film are actually one and the same (given the fact that they were both played by Danny DeVito, who also directed the film), implying that Harry eventually pulled a Heel-Face Turn and became a better person, which leads him to narrate Matilda's story in a way to atone the fact that he was not the decent father he should have been.
  • It's possible that in the film canon, Mr. Wormwood gets his comeuppance offscreen. Although he flees to Guam to escape the American authorities, Guam is a U.S. territory and the FBI still has jurisdiction there.
  • In the book, the family flees from the UK to Spain, escaping the British authorities who had found out that Harry was selling stolen cars.
  • In the musical, the Wormwoods had to flee to Spain when Harry learns too late that the rich Russian he sold some of his bad cars to was a member of the local branch of the Russian mafia. Matilda used her knowledge to talk Sergei and his men out of exacting vengeance on Harry just as long as Sergei doesn't have to deal with Harry again.
    • Given this, it is unknown why Spain was changed to Guam in the film adaptation. However, it is possible that it was changed to reflect Harry's lack of intelligence in contrast to that of his daughter (if anyone believes that Harry was arrested in the end).
    • Additionally, if he and his family had been captured, he would have been taken back to the continental United States, and forced to reimburse his customers of all the money he had scammed from them, on top of facing a lengthy prison sentence.
  • Rhea Perlman, the actress who played Harry's wife Zinnia Wormwood in the film, was Danny DeVito's wife in real life by the time the film was made.
  • In the original book, Mr. Wormwood is taller and thinner, but in the film adaptation, Mr. Wormwood is short and overweight. In contrast, Mrs. Wormwood was overweight in the original book but thinner in the film adaptation.
    • Him using Super Super Glue on the cars was not in the book either. Matilda's prank with the glue appears much earlier than the hair prank.
  • Harry Wormwood's character, to some extent, was the inspiration for Vernon Dursley, the uncle of Harry Potter from the Harry Potter franchise. However, in comparison, Harry is less harsh with his daughter than Vernon with his nephew.
    • Interestingly, Pam Ferris, who plays Trunchbull in the same film, also played Marge Dursley, Vernon's older sister in the film adaptation of Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban.
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