Tuesday, September 24, 2013

Review - The Witches by Roald Dahl

Short review: A young boy loses his parents and gets permanently turned into a mouse, but he manages to get rid of all the witches in the world. That's a victory in Roald Dahl's world.

Grandma's from Norway
She knows all about witches
And then you're a mouse

Full review: For a story aimed at children, The Witches is decidedly dark. A young boy living in England is orphaned, and goes to Norway to live with his Grandmother, who happens to be an expert on witches. In the story, witches are real, and their sole purpose in life is to kill young children. One can determine who is a witch if one knows what to looks for, but the witches are able to cover them up in various ways - claws on their hands are hidden by gloves, bald heads hidden by wigs, and so on.

Grandma tells her charge all about witches, including the frightening ways they killed some children she knew. She tells him about the worldwide witch organization and how it is run by the grand high witch, a vile person that no one has ever been able to track down. She also says that witches can smell children, and that he should rarely bathe, which I'm sure is advice many young readers would like to hear. After some legal problems concerning his parents' will, the two move back to England, a place that is supposed to have the worst witches.

While on vacation, our hero stumbles into the annual meeting of England's witches, and none other than the grand high witch. While in hiding (having not taken a bath for several days), he overhears the witches' plan to eliminate all the children in England by turning them into mice, whereupon their teachers and parents will inevitably kill them.

He witnesses them turning a boy named Bruno Jenkins into a mouse, and is discovered and turned into a mouse himself. After many adventures, he and his grandmother turn the tables on the witches, turning them into mice to be killed by the hotel staff. He and his grandmother than plan to find the grand high witches' castle and kill the rest of the witches in the world, making for a happy ending.

Sort of. As they don't have a counter spell, he remains a mouse, although that only seems to inconvenience him a little. Bruno is not so fortunate, as the two speculate that his parents probably had him drowned. As a mouse, his lifespan is shortened to nine years or so too. So, while the good guys emerge victorious, they pay a significant cost. The Witches is a scary, bittersweet story, and nothing less than I would expect from Dahl.

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  1. I love your haiku for this one! Sounds like an ultra very interesting story although it doesn't have a Happily Ever After.

    1. @Pamela Brittany: It is one of the darkest of Roald Dahl's children's stories, and his stories were darker than most.