Classic Corner: The Witches


Name: The Witches

Author: Roald Dahl

Year: 1985

Genre: Children’s, Fantasy

The Witches is the classic 1985 children’s novel by Roald Dahl, about a boy who falls foul of the Grand High Witch and her evil scheme to wipe out all the children in England.

The story is written from the perspective of a seven year old English boy who goes to live with his grandmother in Norway when his parents are killed in a tragic accident. Whilst there his grandmother tells him stories of evil witches who live in Norway. She tells him that they pretend to look like ordinary women but in fact have claws for fingers, have no toes and are completely bald. Most importantly they hate children and there are a number of mysterious circumstances where children in the village have disappeared.

The boys grandmother was a former witch hunter and knows that all the witches in a country convene once a year for an Annual General Meeting with the Grand High Witch who orders them about and tells them how many children they need to get rid of.

As specified in his parents will, the boy and his grandmother return to England where he resumes his old life. However whilst building a treehouse in the garden he has a close shave with a witch who tries to ply him away with sweets. Shortly afterwards his grandmother contracts pneumonia and though she recovers the doctor said she will not be able to travel for so she and her grandson agree to go to Bournemouth.

One day whilst in the hotel, the boy sneaks into a meeting room to train his mouse which he believes is the Royal Society for the Prevention of Cruelty Against Children but is aghast to discover it is in fact the Annual General Meeting of Witches. He stays hidden and learns the Grand High Witch has a new evil plan – the witches are all to buy sweet shops and spike the sweets with “Formula 86 Delayed-Action Mouse-Maker”, a magic potion which turns people into mice 24 hours later. The witch demonstrates the potion on a boy named Bruce Jenkins but when the boy is discovered the witches force him to drink an entire bottle and he is turned into a mouse!

The boy manages to get back to his grandmothers room as a mouse and the two hatch a plan to get revenge. He will steal a bottle of the potion from the Grand High Witches room and that night plant the potion in the witches food, turning them into mice. Though risky, the plan works and all the witches in England turn into mice.

Afterwards the grandmother decides to go back to England with her grandson who remains a mouse. She adapts her home for him to live in and also finds the place where the Grand High Witch lived in Norway. Together with her grandson they hatch a plan to get rid of all of the witches in the entire world.

Following on from Charlie and the Chocolate Factory and Matilda, this is the third Roald Dahl novel I have read for this blog, Though I do have memories of watching the 1990 movie which starred Anjelica Houston at primary school I can’t remember if I read the book or not but it is a very entertaining read.

In this book, Dahl does something slightly unusual in not making the boy a named character which is clearly a deliberate decision as it does help you to imagine yourself in the boys shoes. I also think as the book is aimed at children the fact the boy is unnamed also suggests it could be any child in the boy’s situation which would definitely make the book a scary read for youngsters.

The witches are also very creepy with plenty of disgusting characteristics – no hair, itchy scalps, claws for hands, no toes, blue coloured saliva. It is all very gross and makes them suitably evil antagonists.

The book also has plenty of black humour moments throughout – in particular the description of the recipe for Formula 86 Delayed-Action Mouse-Maker is really funny as the Grand High Witch says you need to boil an alarm clock to make the potion (though I’m pretty sure in practice this would be very difficult to do).

Also the imagery when all the witches turn to mice is a very chaotic scene that I think most children will love reading.

Overall this is yet another classic from Roald Dahl and I would highly recommend reading it. If you have read this book, let me know your thoughts down below.

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