Review of Roald Dahl’s “The Witches”

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As a child, I loved Roald Dahl’s The Witches. I loved how those witches thought children smelled like dogs’ droppings. That was my favorite part of the story when I was a kid, and as an adult, it is the main reason I still like this book. After rereading it as an adult, though, I have found many problems with The Witches. I’d like to share both these problems and some of the ways I think the story could have been better.

All of the characters in The Witches should have been better developed. The boy definitely should have been. His inadequacies as a character were at their peek when he turned into a mouse. After this happened, he mentioned several reasons why being a mouse is better than being a human boy. Two of those reasons were not having to go to school anymore and not having to grow up and fight in a war, but as a boy, he never mentioned disliking either of those. The reasons he gave for liking being a mouse should have had to do with reasons he disliked being a human, reasons which were know to the reader.

Even though the boy’s parents died early on in the story, they should have been better developed characters, too. If they had had more time in the story before their untimely death in a car accident, Roald Dahl would have been able to develop them as good parents, something very rare in his books. If Roald Dahl really couldn’t have done this, they at least should have died when the boy was a baby, just like Sophie’s parents in The BFG.

The boy’s grandmother is probably the most interesting character in the story, but she, too, should have been better developed. This could have been accomplished by going into more detail on witch-o-philes, and maybe even having additional witch-o-phile characters in the story. This could have allowed some of the witches to be better developed characters, too, and more witch-o-phile characters would have solved other problems.

Additional witch-o-phile characters could have solved problems like the grandmother being the only good grown-up character in the book, magic existing, but hardly being explained, and the end of the book being way too dark. It’s kind of scary how at the end, the boy remains a mouse, meaning he’ll only live for about nine more years. He’s seven, so that would be like a sixteen-year-old dying! Not only that, but he’s glad he won’t outlive his grandma! The reason he gives is that he wouldn’t want anyone else looking after him as a mouse, and frankly, I don’t blame him. Why should he want anyone else taking care of him, especially in his mouse form, when he doesn’t know any other good grown-ups who understand what he’s been through? This wouldn’t have been the case if there were additional witch-o-philes, and they could have helped the boy and his grandma do away with the rest of those witches.

As understandable as the boy’s feelings are, however, having a child know he’s basically going to die when he’s a teenager, as well as him not wanting to outlive his grandmother, is way too dark for a seemingly light-hearted children’s book. There are other aspects of this book that I think are too dark, such as children being destroyed by witches, but this ending is by far the darkest and most problematic. If there were additional witch-o-phile characters in this book, and if they could do magic, they could have worked hard to turn the mouse back into a boy, and one of them could have agreed to adopt him after his grandma dies. That would have made this ending much less dark, and it would have given Roald Dahl an opportunity to better explain the magic in this story.

In conclusion, I see many problems with the witches, but the things I like about the book keep me coming back and thinking about how it could have been better.  I am hoping to further analyze both this book and other personal classics of mine in the future.

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2 responses »

  1. Hello TK and stephswint. Thank you for liking this post. Please tell me more about what you like about this post and others. Also, please tell people you know about this blog.
    My next post, I think, will be on Tuesday. It will be a review of either “If You Give a Mouse a Cookie” or the sequel to “The Girl Who Circumnavigated Fairyland In a Ship of Her Own Making.” It may also be more about “Go Away, Big Green Monster,” specifically as it relates to fairy tales and how they are analyzed in Sheldon Cashdan’s “The Witch Must Die: How Fairy Tales Shape Our Lives.”
    From now on I am going to try posting on Tuesdays, Thursdays, and Sundays, so that’s when you should keep your eyes out for new posts.
    Hope to hear from you guys soon! Take care! 🙂

  2. I very much enjoyed the In depth analysis. It is almost an anthropological study of the witch in one of my favorite books and authors. Please continue your in depth analysis. It is appreciated.

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