The Witches

From Academic Kids

Missing image
Cover of one edition of The Witches

The Witches is a book for children by Roald Dahl, first published in London in 1983 by Jonathan Cape and made into a movie in 1990. The book, like many of Dahl's works, is illustrated by Quentin Blake.



"One child a week equals fifty-two a year, squash them and squiggle them and make them disappear." That is the motto of all witches in Dahl's world. The book's witches are a well-connected organization with one goal: the elimination of as many children as possible, ideally all of them; children smell unpleasant to them, which is the only real motive given. Tired of the witches' habit of concocting elaborate schemes resulting in the removal of perhaps one child at a time, the Grand High Witch comes up with a new plan: to infiltrate England's confectionery retailers and giving away chocolate made with a magic potion that will turn the children into mice exactly at 9 o'clock in the following morning, when they are at school. The teachers, she hopes, will panic and kill the mice.

Unfortunately for her, an old witch expert and her grandson - the unnamed protagonist - are staying at the hotel where the congregation of witches at which she makes the announcement takes place (cleverly disguised as a "Royal Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Children" convention). By chance, the narrator also happens to be hiding in the convention hall at the time, and having received a thorough education about witches from his grandmother he quickly realizes what is going on. The witches unveil their true selves, removing wigs to reveal bald scalps, their gloves to reveal long, sharp fingernails, and grinning widely with their mouths full of blue saliva.

The Grand High Witch turns a fat child named Bruno Jenkins (lured there by the promise of chocolate) into a mouse as a demonstration of the method; and the witches soon sense the narrator's presence - resulting in another mouse with a human mind.

The mouse-person manages to reach his grandmother's room safely (bringing Bruno along because he'd most likely get himself killed on his own), and they turn the witches' potion against them by adding it to the soup reserved for the kind ladies from the RSPCC. The hotel staff panics, as the Grand High Witch predicted, and rid England of its witches. The two then come up with a plan to attack the witches' Norwegian headquarters.

Film version

The 1990 film softens and simplifies the tale somewhat, names the child Luke and adds an epilogue in which he is restored to human form. It stars Anjelica Huston as the Grand High Witch, Mai Zetterling as the grandmother and Jasen Fisher as Luke.


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