The Witches is a children’s book which tells the story of an orphaned boy living with his Grandmamma, who delights in warning her grandson of the terrors of child-eating witches through the medium of some rather scary stories. One day the boy becomes entrapped in the room where all of the witches of the UK are holding their annual meeting, led by the fearsome Grand High Witch herself. Overhearing their vicious plot to turn all of the children of England into mice, the boy is caught by the evil witches and swiftly transformed into a mouse himself. With the severe disadvantage of being a tiny rodent, the boy and his Grandmamma concoct a cunning plan to eradicate the witches from the planet.
The story is well wrought and imaginative - it is inventive how in Dahl’s world the witches look exactly like regular women. The way that Dahl makes the tale appear as though it happened in our own world, playing on childish fears and presenting the witches to us as real, normal women not only makes the book much more terrifying, but also may teach children that though a stranger may look nice and friendly they might not be!
“In fairy-tales, witches always wear silly black hats and black cloaks, and they ride on broomsticks.But this is not a fairy tale. This is about REAL WITCHES... REAL WITCHES dress in ordinary clothes and look very much like ordinary women. They live in ordinary houses and they work in ORDINARY JOBS.That is why they are so hard to catch.”
“For all you know, a witch might be living next door to you right now. Or she might be the woman with the bright eyes who sat opposite you on the bus this morning. She might be the lady with the dazzling smile who offered you a sweet from a white paper bag in the street before lunch. She might even - and this will make you jump - she might even be your lovely school-teacher who is reading these words to you at this very moment. Look carefully at that teacher. Perhaps she is smiling at the absurdity of such a suggestion. Don’t let that put you off. I could be part of her cleverness.”
The Witches is quite dark; like most of Dahl’s work there is a sinister aspect to it and the book certainly has the potential to scare young children. For example at the beginning the boy is being told a story about what witches do with children, and his Grandmamma tells him that one girl became trapped inside a picture for the rest of her life, which I found quite creepy.
The characters are lovely and charming; the boy and his adorable Grandmamma, the detestable Grand High Witch and greedy little Bruno Jenkins make up a compendium of delightful personalities. The close relationship between the boy and his grandmother is heart-warming and one a lot of children will be able to relate to and appreciate.
The Witches is a really delightful, fun and light-hearted story that can be enjoyed by young and old. It is scary, funny and incredibly endearing, with an inventive plot - and on top of all that the illustrations by Quentin Blake are wonderfully charming.