The Witches by Roald Dahl: A

witchesFrom the back cover:
Grandmamma loves to tell about witches. Real witches are the most dangerous of all living creatures on earth. There’s nothing they hate so much as children, and they work all kinds of terrifying spells to get rid of them. Her grandson listens closely to Grandmamma’s stories—but nothing can prepare him for the day he comes face-to-face with The Grand High Witch herself!

Though I’ve counted Willy Wonky and the Chocolate Factory among my favorite movies for 25 years now (side note: holy crap, I am so old), I’d never actually read any of Roald Dahl’s books before The Witches, though I own several. Rest assured that I shall now be rectifying this deplorable failing forthwith.

The Witches is the story of an unnamed boy who loves to listen to his grandmamma’s tales about witches. She tells him all about how to spot a witch (even when she’s masquerading as an ordinary woman) as well as their burning desire to exterminate children, and so the boy is well able to realize his predicament when a holiday in Bournemouth coincides with the annual meeting of all the witches in England. Trapped in a ballroom with the witches as they discuss a cunning plan to turn all the children in Britain into mice, he is eventually found out and turned into a mouse himself.

Does the story end there? No, it does not. He and his grandmamma (Dahl does love these grandparent/grandkid pairings, doesn’t he?) execute a cunning plan of their own, save the children, and end up with a new quest to keep them busy for the rest of their admittedly limited life spans.

What a perfect children’s book! It’s certainly imaginative, and comes with many amusing illustrations by Quentin Blake. It avoids familiar pitfalls, like a tedious interim wherein the mouse-boy must struggle to make himself understood by humans; Dahl dispenses with this entirely by allowing the mouse to speak normally. It doesn’t shirk from darkness—the boy remains a mouse and, as such, his life expectancy is dramatically reduced. And lastly, it’s just plain riveting, for an adult as well as a kid.

Sometimes children’s fiction just doesn’t click with me, even if I like the concept, but that wasn’t a problem whatsoever with The Witches. No wonder Dahl is so beloved; turns out he’s earned every bit of it.

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  1. You’ve never read any Dahl?!


    Read Matilda next.

    • That is precisely my plan! Followed by the two Charlie books. Those are the “several” I mentioned owning. 🙂

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