With all of the exciting news about Charlie in the Chocolate Factory 's lost chapter buzzing around, I think it's time for another of Roald Dahl's childhood creations to come back into public consciousness: The Witches. Dahl's The Witches is a horrifying adventure tale of a young boy and his grandmother who become trapped at a witches convention, posing as a meeting of the Royal Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Children (which, by the way, is an awesome detail).
The Witches has been capturing children's imaginations (and their nightmares) since 1983, but lately it's been overshadowed by news and remakes surrounding other of Dahl's works, including Charlie, The BFG, and Matilda , a Bustle favorite. And though it's not without its shortcomings, which we will get to, with all of these witches taking over pop culture, it's time for its resurgence. I'm not saying we need another terrible movie adaptation, because the Angelica Huston one is a classic, but it's time to give The Witches more time in the spotlight.
Why did we love The Witches?
You guys, this book scared the crap out of me when I was a kid. In the best possible way. And that's exactly what Dahl wanted.
So many terrifying things happen during the course of this novel, let's recap:
- There are witches in real life.
- These witches are not fun, festive witches
- These witches trapped a girl inside a painting and then taunt her in it.
- These witches then take off their faces and it's horrifying, and the visual from the movie version is still burned into my adult brain.
- These witches turn children into mice.
- Spoiler alert: The narrator boy stays as a mouse at the end of the book because he doesn't want to live in a world without his grandmother so he's totally OK with his shortened life span.
And then, just to prove that he knows exactly how to get into little boy and girl brains, Dahl hits us with this line:
I am not, of course, telling you for one second that your teacher actually is a witch. All I am saying is that she might be one.
Wait... what? Oh god. Not only did he scare us in the confines of his pages, he took that terror into our own real lives. This is a master at work.
Why Do We Still Love It?
First of all, I'm a grown-ass woman and I still can't even with oil paintings that have children. I make a joke about the soul trapped in there every time I see one in anyone's house, and then I subsequently succeed in scaring the bejeezus out of myself.
Second, I want to reiterate that in the end of this book, the boy is still a mouse. There is no magic spell to make everything right again. He's going to die shortly, and so is his grandmother. Dahl pretty much tells us this. So basically, Dahl doesn't coddle children and I completely respect that.
Third, the Grand High Witch is an awesome villain.
I'm pretty sure American Horror Story: Coven's Supreme is based on her.
And finally, the grandmamma is a total badass. She tells the narrator everything he knows about witches, and she isn't afraid to confront them herself. Here's how she's introduced:
My grandmother was tremendously old and wrinkled, with a massive wide body which was smothered in grey lace. She sat there majestic in her armchair, filling every inch of it. Not even a mouse could have squeezed in to sit beside her.
First of all, nice with the mouse foreshadowing, Dahl. Second, she is majestic. And just because she's old doesn't mean she can't kick some butt, which is exactly what she intends to do to every witch in the world.
It must be noted that the book has seen some controversy, and not just from your standard this-book-is-too-scary book banners (though it had that, too). Dahl's novel has been criticized for being misogynistic. I, for one, however, believe that saying it's misogynistic is a simplistic reading, though not without merit.
Sure, all witches in his story are women. And these women are evil, untrustworthy, and something to be feared. It can be argued that the plotline of a boy growing up to face his female tormentors just supports teaching men to hate women. It's hard to completely argue with that, but with an adult's eyes, the protagonist of the story is a woman: the grandmother. And several other people have come out with close readings of The Witches to dispute this claim. Though we'll never know what was in his heart writing it, at least we can make a case that the women in this story may, for the most part, be evil, they are powerful women in charge of their own lives and futures.
If You Loved The Witches, Try Reading...
1. Half-Bad by Sally Green
A secret society of witches living among you in broad daylight, but nobody knows. And those witches are divided among themselves into two rival factions? Sold, Sally Green.
2. Stolen by Vivian Vande Velde
As those terrifying hands on the cover might let you know, these witches in Stolen are just as creepy as the ones in Dahl's tale. And just like those witches, they also target young children.
3. Everlost by Neal Shusterman
Just like in the rest of these books, the witches in Everlost are certainly the antagonists. And the book's The Sky Witch is a villain that could rival anyone in The Witches. She is a fanatic and completely terrifying.
Images: Giphy (5)