Saturday, December 20, 2014

The Witches (1983) by Roald Dahl

The Witches by Roald Dahl (1983): Roald Dahl's zippy, scary, funny, Whitbread-Award-winning children's novel about the efforts of a plucky boy and his grandmother to thwart the Witches of England in their quest to turn all children into mice is a humdinger. It's also got some disturbing psychological elements that the excellent 1990 Nicholas Roeg film version eliminated, understandably so. The changes prompted Dahl to publicly trash the movie, but it's a darned good movie and you should see it anyway. 

The novel is also darned good. Dahl, a great writer of both horrifying short stories and weird children's novels, had a great imagination. And he didn't patronize his intended readers with fake scares. The witches in his story are terrible beings, which doesn't stop them from breaking out into song from time to time. And for whatever reason, childhood gluttony is once again a target of Dahl's writerly wrath. 

There are also a number of nicely gross scenes calculated to make children giggle in between the scenes of fantasy and horror. For example, to witches, a human child smells like dog poo. Hee hee hee. The protagonists are a brave pair, and Dahl's witches are a fascinating bunch with some fascinating peculiarities (why don't they have toes?). Recommended.

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