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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 nothin' you can do about it.
~ Harry insulting his daughter, Matilda.

Harold "Harry" Wormwood, also known as Mr. Wormwood, is the central antagonist in Roald Dahl's book Matilda and its popular 1996 film adaptation.

He is the owner of Wormwood Motors, the husband of Zinnia Wormwood, and the father of Matilda and Michael Wormwood. Although he poses as an honest and amicable businessman, Wormwood is a con-artist, selling faulty cars at unreasonable prices, as he believes that nobody gets rich being honest. In the film, he is unaware that FBI agents were spying on him as he believes that they were simply speedboat salesmen.

He was portrayed by Danny DeVito, who also directed the film and narrated it. DeVito also voices Mr. Swackhammer in Space Jam, and portrays The Penguin in Batman Returns, Sam Stone in Ruthless People, Burke Bennett in Death to Smoochy, Bobby Ciaro in Hoffa, and Frank Reynolds in It's Always Sunny in Philadelphia. In the upcoming 2022 Netflix adaptation, he will be played 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.


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.

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, 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 dinner that evening.

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 Jennifer 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 Wormwood laughs derisively at Jennifer 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 Jennifer 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 Wormwood 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 Jennifer Honey protest, and they relent, allowing Honey to adopt Matilda before leaving on their way. As they do so, we hear police sirens in the background.

Wormwood's exact fate is unknown, although it is implied that he was most likely arrested and sent to prison for his crimes.



  • 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. However, in the book, the family flees from the UK to Spain, escaping the British authorities.
    • 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.
  • John Ritter, Dan Aykroyd, Martin Short, David Hemmings, The late Bob Hoskins, Tim Allen, Joe Pesci, John Goodman, Robert De Niro, Bill Murray, Chevy Chase, Richard Dreyfuss, Steve Martin, George Wendt, Alec Baldwin, the late Phil Hartman, Rick Moranis, the late Robin Williams and the late Tony Haygarth were all considered for the role of Harry Wormwood before Danny DeVito was cast.
  • Harry Wormwood's character was, to some extent, 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 same film, also played Marge Dursley, Vernon's older sister in the film adaptation of Harry Potter and Prisoner of Azkaban.


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See Also
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