The Witches is a children’s book by British author Roald Dahl, illustrated by Quentin Blake and was first published in London in 1983 by Jonathan Cape. The year it was published, it won three awards: The New York Times Outstanding Books Award, The Federation of Children’s Book Groups Award and The Whitbread Award. The book was adapted into an unabridged audio reading by Lynn Redgrave (ISBN 0-060-53616-0), a stage play and a two-part radio dramatisation for the BBC, a 1990 movie directed by Nicolas Roeg and an opera by Marcus Paus and Ole Paus.
The story is partly set in Norway and partly in the United Kingdom, focusing on the experiences of a young boy and his Norwegian grandmother in a world where child-hating evil witches secretly exist. The Witches tells the story of a brave young boy and his Norwegian grandmother as they battle against England’s child-hating witches.
To this day it continues to feature in lists dedicated to the scariest children’s books more than 30 years after it was first published, especially around Hallowe’en. It is recommended for ages 7-12 years old.
A film version of the story, starring Angelica Huston as the witches’ leader The Grand High Witch, was released in 1990. There are important differences between the film and the book. In my opinion, a book is always far better than any film version. As was once wisely said, a quote by someone whom I do not recall,which goes something like this…
‘One can live in a book, but one can only visit a film.’
The main difference between the film and the original story is the ending – in the book, there is no spell cast to change the boy. The film also gives its central character the name Luke, whereas in the book we neither find out the boy who narrates the story nor his grandmother’s name. Personally, I find the film to be much scarier than the book. Read the book first, then watch the film… Which do you prefer?
Roald Dahl’s style in this book is rather unique because it uses a lot of rhyming. Whenever the witches use spells, they always rhyme. Dahl also uses very precise diction, especially in his descriptions. When describing Bruno, the narrator says “Meet him in the hotel lobby and he is stuffing sponge cake into his mouth. Pass him in the corridor and he is fishing potato crisps out of a bag by the fistful…” Through the use of words like “stuffing” and “fishing”, Dahl is able to give the reader a very vivid image of what the characters are like.
One of the hidden messages of the book is that beauty is deceiving. This can especially be seen in the character of the Grand High Witch. The Grand High Witch wore a mask which made her look like a beautiful young woman. Under that mask, her face was frighteningly ugly and grotesque. While she appeared to be nice on the outside, on the inside she was horrible; calling the other witches names and plotting to rid the world of children. All of the witches seem pretty and nice on the outside, but on the inside it is a different story. This book unquestionably cautions people about judging others by their appearances, as goes the saying,
‘Never judge a book by its cover.’
This is a book that can be used as a class novel, but is also great for independent reading. It allows for discussions about the subject of appearance and how things are not always as they seem at first glance. By focusing on Dahl’s writing style, this book gives opportunities to focus on rhyming and descriptive writing. It has immense potential within a classroom.
I think no child should grow up, without having read this, at some point in their childhood.
Remember! You can always tell a lot about a person’s shoes… Hehe!
Teachers click HERE to be directed to plans and classroom work related to ‘The Witches’, from the official Roald Dahl site!
Until next time…!
Always happy to read your thoughts and comments.