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What I Learned from Witches
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20050709_witches.jpg

Roald Dahl is the subject of a big New Yorker deconstructo-piece — in this week’s issue and on the web. (Via Brad Plumer.)

I love Dahl, but I’ve heardly read any of his books. Roll call:

  • His two-part autobiography.
  • “Witches.” (More on that in a sec.)
  • “Matilda.”
  • A big book of his short stories. (Which are really grim!)

No “Charlie and the Chocolate Factory,” no B.F.G., no giant peaches.

So I wouldn’t be a proper Dahl fan at all, except for the fact that “Witches” was no mere grade-school read: It was an essential part of my moral education!


“Witches” is the story, recall, in which a boy on holiday with his family runs afoul of a clan of you-guessed-it at a seaside resort. The evil enchantresses catch him spying on them and transform him into a mouse.

Of course, they think this is the end of the story. And indeed, for our hero’s parents, it just about is. His mom faints; his dad is appalled: “My son, ruined!”

Luckily his grandmother is along for the trip, too. And she is different. She is all steadiness and good sense. Her son’s son, transmogrified? Well — he’ll need a smaller cup to drink from, then. And a mouse-sized bed. And so on.

They team up, use the grandson’s new mousely powers in clever ways, and foil the witches’ cruel plot (whatever it was).

The story ends rather gloriously, with our mouse-boy inhabiting a complicated network of Habitrail tubes in his grandma’s house.

I’m actually not sure exactly what the lesson is, but it still seems very salient: Steady, steady. Your son is a mouse. Buy him a tiny toothbrush.

July 9, 2005 / Uncategorized

9 comments

“Witches,” the book: Good. “Witches,” the movie: Absolutely terrifying. To this day I won’t watch it.

TOTALLY agree. The Witches were way too scary. And — AND! — they changed the ending! The boy gets transformed back into a boy!

Gah, Hollywood!

ali says…

Witches was my fav, the book the movie… because it spooked me but it was written for me! (a child)

i was reading that article and stopped about halfway through when the term ‘anti-dahlism’ showed up. at first i laughed a little bit. because every hates on roald. then i thought of “Dahlism” one of the dudes in Street Fighter. and i’m sitting here trying to figure out how it all comes together.

BAS says…

The lesson is “nothing is good or bad but thinking makes it so”. Get on with your life.

Hee hee, I wanted to leave a comment from Reykjavik just to amuse you, but this time I actually have an appropriate aphorism: when our party was drenched for the Nth time at a beautiful Icelandic site, and our host was apologizing for the weather, a tall fleece-and-goretex-clad Swede replied, “Nonsense. There is no such thing as bad weather. Only bad clothing.”

Hannah says…

I love the witches its a brilliant book but the film, for a kids film i think its way to scary, i think the rating was PG, Ha it needed to be a 12 or 12A really.

Montana says…

Since I was about 8 (when i first watched the movie The Witches) Ive been looking for it because i saw it on tv. I am still looking for it, ive looked just about everywhere. Garage sales, E-bay, movie stores, etc =[ If i find it i will be so happy =] Its a great movie, and it gave me shivers. I definatly recemend it.

great book amazing film and fabulous author, i just couldnt put the book down !!!

The book the Witches is a great buzzzzzzz. I usually don’t like to read but this book has something which is wicked and I don’t know what it is……..

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