Roald Dahl spins another tale of heroism, magic and the extraordinary in the award-winning story of The Witches. Our hero, an unnamed seven-year-old boy is told by his marvellous grandmother that witches are not only real, they’re a nasty piece of work. Hideous beneath their womanly disguises, witches despise children more than anything and are determined to destroy them.
As with the giants in The BFG, Dahl’s witches may be terrifying to young children. It’s no surprise then that this book was often the target of censorship. But while it may be frightful to some, it is undeniably another of the master storyteller’s skilled, trademark tales for children. As one reviewer puts it, “ROALD DAHL knows … that children love the macabre, the terrifying, the mythic."
Many of the traditional Dahl motifs are present. Our hero, like Sophie in The BFG or James in James and the Giant Peach, has no parents. The Grand High Witch is the distinctive Dahl villain, nasty, cruel, fearsome in looks and demeanour. Revenge (or rather well-deserved retaliation), a recurring theme in Dahl’s books, is the theme, as it was when the fantastic Mr Fox got back at the farmers, or when Danny and his father duped Mr Hazell, or when Matilda scared the Trunchbull.
Dahl's characteristic writing style is evident in the delightful similes, adjectives and gobblefunk that only Dahl could produce so freely and naturally. Next to his words, the beloved illustrations of Quentin Blake add vision to this adventure, as they do in so many of Dahl's other works.
Winner of the Whitbread Award in 1983, The Witches, like all Dahl’s children’s stories gives the protagonist child power. Whether through mouse-like abilities or just a whopping great idea, this power allows the child to take control, to be acknowledged and admired. Adult readers may find themselves drifting back to their own childish heroics or dreams, while children will no doubt enjoy the fantastical thrill of the adventure.