Tuesday, October 4, 2011

The Witches

I've always enjoyed reading, and sometimes I like to look back on the books I read as a kid.  One that sticks out in my memory is "The Witches," or as I like to call it, "WTF, Roald Dahl?"  Allow me to explain.

The Witches is one of Dahl's less famous books.  While there was a movie made of it, it never reached the popularity of others (e.g. Charlie and the Chocolate Factory, James and the Giant Peach, Matilda), so I hadn't heard of it when it became assigned reading in fourth grade.  And it was freakin' dark.

Now, I know Dahl's books are always a bit dark, but they're usually morality tales.  Charlie is good and kind, so he gets the factory; James is brave and gets a family (So does Matilda); The Big Friendly Giant does what's right and makes friends.  And then there's The Witches.  If you plan on reading it, be warned: There be spoilers ahead.

The Witches starts with the little boy main character (who is never given a name) going to live with his grandmother.  She's the Van Helsing character in the book, who teaches the boy all about witches.  Basically, they look like women, except that they're bald, have no toes, have claws and blue spit.  And they hate the smell of children.  (Incidentally, since dirt and grime mask the smell of children, this is the only children's book I know of that takes an anti-bathing stance.)

But the witches are sadistic. As. Fuck.  The way they kill children ranges from weird (turning them into a porpoise) to surprisingly depressing (a girl lives out her entire life trapped in a painting) to horrifying (American witches would find children at baseball games and turn them into hot dogs so their parents would eat them).

So nothing much happens until the boy and his grandma take a trip to a fancy hotel, where it turns out that the witches of England are having their annual meeting.  The boy is hiding in the room and discovers that the Grand High Witch is there to unveil her new plan: Open up candy stores and give candy to the children on their way to the first day of school.  The candy would be laced with a potion that would turn them into mice at about the time they arrived in the school, so the teachers would crush them.

They turn a boy name Bruno (who reminds me of a British Augustus Gloop) into a mouse then do the same to the main character when they catch him trying to escape.  The potion doesn't work as it was supposed to, as they can both still speak in their own voices.

Long story short, the children/mice and the boys grandmother turn the witches at the hotel into mice.  Then both the boys go back to normal and the witches are forever vanquished.  Just kidding.

There are more witches all over the world ready to carry on killing children.  And Bruno's (proper, high class) parents have trouble accepting what happened to their son, and the last we hear about the issue is the boy's grandmother saying that Bruno's parents are probably just going to drown him in a bucket.  But what to do about the witches?  Well, the elderly woman and the mouse plan to go around the world, sneak into all the witches castles/lairs/what-have-you's and turn them into mice and feed them to the cats.  So the boy will have to stay a mouse, but at least he'll have a long, happy life hunting witches.  Right?

Wrong.  The grandmother explains that, although a mouse has a three year lifespan, since he's a human turned into a mouse, why, he'll live three times as long.  And then comes the line that I've never been able to forget.  The boy says it's okay because, "I wouldn't want to outlive you."  The end.

Holy. Shit.  That ending was depressing.  It wasn't a morality tale, bad kid/bad ending either, because the good guys got the short stick.  It was just dark.

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