Review: The Witches by Roald Dahl

Big Juice Read is getting Closer. This year’s event is all about Roald Dahl, Karen Johnston reviews her favourite Roald Dahl book…

Roald Dahl’s moralistic tales are just as poignant to a modern day audience as they were when I read his works as a young child in the 1990s. Never is this truer than in The Witches which begins by reminding the reader that there are ‘REAL WITCHES’ who ‘dress in ordinary clothes and look very much like ordinary women’. The ingenious tale warns the reader that witches are not simply a fairy tale technique but a real threat in everyday life. Of course, we as readers know Roald Dahl for his fantastical short stories, and, magic and fantasy are a noticeable component of any story.witches

Roald Dahl’s lengthy sentences entertain the reader with his confusing repetition that borders on gibberish. Not only does Dahl use lengthy sentences but his use of rhyme merely adds to the nonsense. Dahl’s use of onomatopoeic lexis in reference to the Grand High Witches’ Voice, for instance, makes The Witches especially entertaining. Born to Norwegian parents, The Witches is a perfect blend of English fairy tales and Norwegian folklores, a tribute of course to Roald Dahl’s own background.

The story begins with a somewhat ludicrous retelling of the disappearances of several children in Norway to which the main protagonist (and the audience) wonder whether or not to trust the stories of Grandmamma. That is however, until, we encounter for ourselves the witches she so aptly describes. Dahl creates a successful ruse for the coven meeting under the guise of the Royal Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Children. Poetic irony if ever there was any! Throughout the tale we learn just how awful the witches are.

The witches are described with physical defects having blue phlegm and claw like fingernails which seemingly compliments their ugly personalities. Our protagonist (who could quite easily be Roald Dahl himself, a known RAF fighter pilot, refers to fighting in war as a boy) is unfortunately the subject of the Grand High Witches’ 500 dose of Delayed Action Mouse Maker.

The tale metamorphosizes our young protagonist into a furry mouse and sees the clever retrieval of one 500 dose supply of said potion by breaking into the Grand High Witches’ hotel room. We are also introduced to the rather arrogant character of Bruno Jenkins who seemingly eats his way out of house and home.

“‘Why on earth didn’t you speak up and tell you father who you were?’ she said to Bruno.
‘Because I had my mouth full,’ Bruno said…
‘What a very disagreeable little boy you are,’ my grandmother said to him.”

Our protagonist’s Grandmamma is especially sympathetic and accommodating of her grandsons’ altered state, yet, the Jenkins are terrified by her claims of witchery and magic. Having been transformed into a mouse, our protagonist comes up with a cunning plan to punish the witches. He uses his small state to scurry into the kitchen and poison the coven of witches. We anticipate that our furry little protagonist will get caught, and, as he swings into view of the chefs he unfortunately causes mayhem amongst the kitchen staff. The farcical event adds to the hilarity of the situation.

Dahl leads us through a hilarious account that eventually results in serving the witches their just desserts by changing their physical state into mice. The story ends with the promise of turning every last witch into mice with Grandmamma and our protagonist concocting such elaborate schemes. The Witches is enjoyable to both a younger audience and adults who grew up reading Dahl’s stories. A timeless piece of literature that leaves the reader with the feel good feeling Dahl is famous for.

The Big Juice Read takes place on October 27th at Gateshead Central Library and October 28th at Newcastle City Library.