I’m up to book 3 on my Roald Dahl reading challenge, and this time I decided to pick “The Witches”. It’s been a long time since I’ve read this book and I remember having a bit of a love/hate relationship with it when I was a kid.
“The Witches” by Roald Dahl is a book about a little boy who ends up living with his beloved Norwegian grandmother after his parents are killed in a car crash. The boy, who is never named, is a stoic and cheerful lad and lives happily with his enigmatic grandmother who teaches him about the greatest danger there is to children: witches. When she falls ill, the doctor orders that they go on holiday to the seaside and there the boy makes a terrifying discovery. Making the most of a bad situation and using all the ingenuity has, he and his grandmother must try to save the children of England from the witches’ wicked plot.
This book has all the elements of Roald Dahl’s classics: the plucky, quiet and clever child; the vulgar and grotesque villain who thrives on abusing children; the genius hare-brained scheme. The relationship between the boy and his elderly grandmother is quite wonderful. However, there’s something about “The Witches” that is missing the charm of some of his other books. Some people over the years have criticised this book for being sexist, which I don’t think is right. Yes the witches are women, but so is the grandmother. Maybe it’s the fate of the boy that doesn’t sit so well with me, something the film adaptation tried to rectify, but I don’t think it’s that either. Maybe it’s because this book actually deals not just with children suffering at the whim of horrible adults, but actually dying. I always remember finding this book very much a Roald Dahl book but at the same time frightening and unsettling as a child. I actually think in some ways this book has more in common with his adult short stories than it does with his children’s stories.
I think “The Witches” is not one of my favourite Roald Dahl books, and it still makes me feel as uncomfortable as it did as a child. There aren’t really any funny bits, just a lot of tragedy and adversity that the main characters cope with well. Maybe that’s a good lesson for kids to learn, but I think I prefer his other books.