sprite writes
broodings from the burrow

July 23, 2012

into the stacks: the witches
posted by soe 2:58 am

The Witches, by Roald Dahl

From the jacket: “This is not a fairy tale. This is about real witches. 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!”

My take: Our eight-year-old orphaned narrator is left in the care of his Norwegian grandmother, who instructs him in a variety of life skills, but most importantly how to spot a witch. A witch is a woman who is bald, lacks toes, and has claws instead of fingernails, a powerful sense of smell, pupils filled with fire and ice, and blue spit. Oh, and she hates children and wants nothing more than to eliminate them from the face of the earth. So when our narrator accidentally finds himself trapped in a ballroom full of witches in Bournemouth, we know he’s in for some trouble. But, it turns out, so are those witches.

For a long time, I thought I didn’t like Roald Dahl books. I read Charlie and the Chocolate Factory and (I believe) Charlie and the Glass Elevator when I was in sixth grade and I was unimpressed. But then, as an adult, I read The BFG and realized I was wrong. Subsequent readings of Matilda, Boy, and James and the Giant Peach reinforced this conclusion.

So I was excited to read The Witches when I realized it was still on my top 100 unread list.

I’m glad I had that stretch of Dahl books I found charming, because this decidedly went on the so-so list. I mean, it was fine. I can see why lots of people like it. But I didn’t (even with the knitterly addition of using a half-knit sock as a mode of transportation). I think the characters, with the exception of Grandmamma, all felt a little one-dimensional. Dahl villains always are, but for some reason, this protagonist felt less developed than did James or Matilda. Perhaps it’s the lack of a name for our protagonist. Or the dark ending. Or some other reason. But, regardless, The Witches falls a cut below Matilda and The BFG in my book.

Pages: 208

Category: books. There is/are 2 Comments.

I intend to read all of Dahl’s books eventually, but to date I have only read “James and the Giant Peach,” “Matilda,” and “The BFG.” My impression of Dahl’s work so far is that his characters, particularly his villains, are often so over-the-top that it’s hard to suspend your disbelief and really get into the story. Somehow, though, the stories are inventive and fun and sweet enough that they’re worth reading.

BTW, good job on all the recent book posts. I’ve been enjoying them.

Comment by Karen 07.26.12 @ 9:04 am

@Karen: I think the main character in this novel is a little less well-defined than in the other Dahl books you’ve read, but the villains seem to be just as lurid as usual.

And thanks!

Comment by soe 08.10.12 @ 12:40 am