Saturday, February 21, 2009

NOT a Fairy Tale

One child a week is fifty-two a year,
Squish them and squiggle them
And make them disappear.


When the young hero of Roald Dahl’s story is orphaned in an automobile accident, he is left in the care of his aged grandmother- a formidable lady who happens to be a retired witchophile, an expert on all witchy matters. Even though she tells him (and us) everything known about how to identify a witch, he accidentally wanders into the annual convocation of the witches of England. The meeting is presided over by none other than The Grand High Witch of the World, the most dangerous of them all. He overhears the horrifying plans she has in store for every child in England, but before he can escape to reveal the witches’ plot, he is captured and turned into a mouse. However, he is no ordinary mouse- and this is no ordinary tale.

True to his reputation as one of the most gifted and popular writers for children in the world, Roald Dahl tells the rollicking story of how a mouse-hero, undaunted by his diminutive stature, and his intrepid grandmother take on The Grand High Witch and her coven.

Title: The Witches
Author: Roald Dahl
Illustrator: Quentin Blake
Start & Finished: 10/7/08- 10/8/08
Published: 1983
Publisher: Farrar Straus Giroux
Pages: 202
Genre: Children’s Fiction

Grotesque, sometimes scary, full of dark humour, and yet beloved by children everywhere are the works of British author Roald Dahl (usually accompanied by the illustrations of Quentin Blake), especially his 1983 release The Witches. A frequently banned book (it’s actually on a list of the top banned books in America), Dahl’s story was nonetheless awarded the Whitbread’s Award (now known as the Costa Awards) for Best Children Book. The Witches was even made into a film in 1990 produced by Jim Henson and starring Anjelica Huston- whom Dahl himself had wanted for the role of the Grand High Witch.

No matter when the last time was that you read one of Roald Dahl’s books, it’s still incredibly easy to be swept up in his magical prose. I’m ashamed to admit that I had only read two of his wonderful stories before this book but I had enjoyed them both immensely and even though I was still very young when I first read Charlie and the Chocolate Factory and The BFG they continue to stick with me today… as I imagine The Witches will.

An amazing book- as the judges of the Whitbread Award were rumored to have described it as “deliciously disgusting,” and most decidedly dark as well. Some of that “darkness” can be contributed to Quinten Blake’s very good and sometimes seriously creepy illustrations too. From time to time, they made me think that the unnamed kid in the book might have drawn them to illustrate his tale. The story just wouldn’t have been the same without Blake’s drawings.

“The banning of any book, you know especially a children's book, is unforgivable,” said Roald Dahl in an interview after he was told that The Witches was being banned in some places. I do see why the book was banned because it would be frightening for some children as there are some scary moments that could even give them nightmares but I still don’t think it should ever have been censored. The “morals” alone in the book make it worth reading: “However nice they may seem, don’t talk to or take anything from strangers,” and the other one is even spelled out right in the story: “It doesn’t matter who you are or what you look like so long as somebody loves you.”

Links: Book Wikipedia, Author Wikipedia, Roald Dahl Fan Page, Roald Dahl Museum
Interview: 1989 Interview about Banning, BBC Audio Interviews on a Variety of Subjects

Roald Dahl Tells Children About Witches:

Witches Smelling the "Stink-Waves" of a Child
Grandma Tells Boy About Witches
Bruno Jenkins Becomes a Mouse
A Sugar Bowl Bathtub


  1. I loved both this book and the movie adaptation when I was little, but I haven't read or seen it in years. Thanks for reminding me of it!

  2. The illustrations are absolutely amazing.

  3. Love Dahl! And the illustrations in his books are awesome too - I know Quentin Blake does some of them.

  4. I haven't read this yet, but Rhinoa picked it for the challenge we're doing together, so that'll change soon! I do love Dahl though :)

  5. Memory: You're welcome. I'm still a little hesitant about seeing the movie but I plan to watch it soon.

    SciFi Guy: I agree!

    Lenore: Love him too. They're just so imaginative :)

    Nymeth: I hope you two enjoy this as much as I did!

  6. I'm really surprised I have never read this book. I have a few books by him that I read when I was a kid, but not this one...

  7. I liked the movie version when I was little.
    great review! the illustrations are great.

  8. I love the movie! I haven't read the book or many of Dahl's stuff beyond Charlie and the Chocolate Factory and The Glass Elevator.

    I'm glad Anjelica Huston was Dahl's top choice - she would've been mine as well! She was absolutely perfect!

  9. Kailana: I'm not even sure I would have wanted to read this as a kid! Most of his books have bad guys in them but these were actually pretty scary!

    Naida: I honestly don't think I ever saw it but then again I might have and just don't remember it. I was only four when it came out. Thanks! Yes, I really liked the illustrations too :)

    The Epic Rat: I'm going to watch the movie soon to see if I like it as much as the book. I've loved every Dahl book I've read, pitiful amount though it is!

    The Chic Geek: From what I've read of him, I love him too! Thank you =)

  10. I love Dahl's books, but never got around to this one...might have to check it out!

  11. I'm glad you enjoyed this one! Here is my link, at your request. I will add your review to mine, as well. :-)

  12. I love Roald Dahl. What a fantastic story teller for all ages. I still remember being scared to death by The Witches...and even more when I saw that 1990 movie with Angelica Huston. Quentin Blake is awesome too.

  13. I love Dahl's stories - both the children's and adult's! I have a collection of his adult stories - full of twists and the unexpected.

    *The Witches* is one I haven't read, but I think my son has it on his bookcase ... must go exploring ...

  14. I read Witches this past October and just watched the movie last month. It was a fun adaptation. I enjoyed it.

  15. Allison: Hope you do!

    Darla D: Thanks for the link. I thought it was you that had reviewed it! Lol, those were the good old days when I was only 16 reviews behind instead of over 60 lol.

    Mae: I'm looking forward to a peaceful weekend so I may be able to watch the movie for the first time then. I agree! Miss Roald Dahl as there hasn't been one like him since

    Dawn (She is Too Fond of Books): I haven't read anything he's written for adults before but if they're half as good as his chldren's books... well lets just say I really need to pick them up lol! Hope you're able to read it too, I'd love to hear what you thought.

    Natasha (Maw Books): This was one of my October reads as well! I haven't seen the movie yet though.

  16. Does seem a bit freaky. Haven't read it or seen the movies. In fact, I haven't read any Dahl except for Charlie. I guess I should revisit him, huh.

  17. This is perhaps my favourite Dahl book. The Witches in it are so scary and I find myself using the criteria to spot them to this day!

  18. Rebecca Reid: You bet and me too lol!

    Rhinoa: lol :)

  19. Great review, Jen! Reading your review is bringing back all the memories of reading The Witches. :D



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