The Witches

the witches cover roald dahl
9.0 Overall Score
Story: 9/10
Illustrations: 7/10

Dahl isn't afraid to scare children

Not very PC and some parents could object to the content

Book Info

Book Title:  The Witches

Publisher:  Jonathan Cape

Writer:  Roald Dahl

Illustrator:  Quentin Blake

Release Date:  1983


First Edition

Witches are real and they are all around us…constantly plotting on ways to kill children!  A young orphaned boy finds himself living with his Norwegian grandmother who knows all about them.  On a holiday respite in England, the boy discovers how real witches are when he is transformed into a mouse at a gathering of the Royal Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Children…which is a sly cover for the evil hags.  Now, the boy and his grandmother must stop his fate from being the fate of all the children of England and stop the Grand High Witch’s evil plot before it is too late!

Written by Roald Dahl and illustrated by Quentin Blake, The Witches is Roald Dahl’s fantasy children story first published in 1983.  The book faced censorship challenges about sexism and misogyny but is considered a classic.  The book was adapted into a film in 1990 by Nicolas Roeg, a radio drama in 2008 by the BBC, and an opera also in 2008.

I love Roald Dahl but missed The Witches when it was released.  My family were big Charlie and the Chocolate Factory readers along with James and the Giant Peach, but never really seemed to latch on to other Roald Dahl’s books.  I read The Witches much later, even after the release of the film, but as an adult, I still enjoy Dahl’s sense of humor and unflinching storytelling.

The novel isn’t a simple one.  From the opening chapter which presents the story as a tale being told by the boy, Dahl already begins to play with the readers by hinting that if the book is being read out loud by a woman, that woman could be a witch.  It is stylish writing and quite clever in its overlapping nature.  From this first chapter of the book, you can’t help but be hooked and read on.


The Grand High Witch Unmasked!!!

Dahl also never shied away from doing some controversial stuff with his writing.  The book is filled with unlikable character and character who might not be considered the best role models.  The boy’s grandmother smokes (of course a bigger no-no today) and offers him a puff on her cigar.  The book also encourages children not to take baths (one a month is good) to keep the witches away…I’m sure plenty of parents liked this advice.  I also found it odd that Dahl is so casual with the lives of children and doesn’t mince words that the witch’s ultimate goal is killing the kids (also Bruno potentially meets his fate at his parents’ hands).

*****Spoiler Alert***** One of the oddest things that the book does is the ending which leaves the boy in mouse form.  The movie opted for a more optimistic ending, but the book played it out and has the boy dying in a few years (human mice live slightly longer than regular mice).  It is rather morbid and sad, but Dahl tempers it by having the characters set off on new adventures.  Time is pretty relative to children, but the idea of mortality is something a parent might not want to deal with.

The Witches is a fun book that continues to show Dahl’s skills.  With nice illustrations by Quentin Blake, The Witches deserves a place on the shelf with Dahl’s other novels.  I love that Dahl doesn’t talk down to kids and is not afraid to scare them a little.  Many of his novels might not be very PC by today’s standards, but that is part of what made them great reads as a kids.  Curl up with The Witches and continue Dahl’s legacy for yourself or with your children.

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Related Links:

The Witches (1990)

Author: JPRoscoe View all posts by
Follow me on Twitter/Instagram/Letterboxd @JPRoscoe76! Loves all things pop-culture especially if it has a bit of a counter-culture twist. Plays video games (basically from the start when a neighbor brought home an Atari 2600), comic loving (for almost 30 years), and a true critic of movies. Enjoys the art house but also isn't afraid to let in one or two popular movies at the same time.

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