The Witches by Roald Dahl is one of his world famous children’s stories that was first published in 1983 and even has a film adaption… Dahl died in November in 1990 leaving the world with many popular and loved stories – Matilda was one of my favourite books as a child, next to books by Astrid Lindgren and I know that many of you adore Charlie and the Chocolate Factory.
The Witches is a story about a boy who’s parents die in a car accident, so he goes to live with his grandmother. She is the type of grandmother that smokes cigars and tells weird and scary stories, but she makes absolutely sure that her grandson knows for sure that the story of children killing witches is real. But soon enough he encounters witches himself and can only hope that he is going to get away alive.
This was my first time reading this book and honestly I was left shocked that this has been acceptable for children to read. I have a little suspicion that I might not like Matilda anymore, because, if it is written in a similar style, it seems like a bad children’s book.
The Witches promotes smoking (grandmother smokes and offers to her grandson), ignoring doctors orders (people with pneumonia shouldn’t smoke, but in this book they do) and scaring kids from strange woman (when actually, if someone tries to kidnap a kid, the kid should try to reach out for help, but instead he might not, because the book has given him an idea of witches walking among us). I understand that this book kind of helps to prevent abduction because it focuses on NOT going with strangers, but it is only females the kids are warned about and that is wrong. I did a quick search on children abduction and the statistics are so incredible that the witches might actually be real.
Ok, returning to the book!
It was written in a very simple language, suitable for kids to understand, I didn’t really had any objections as honestly there shouldn’t be any literacy standards in books that are written for small children, but I did hate the accent author gave to the Grand Witch. It was just so annoying. I would assume that it was made so for parent to read it easier to their children, but it actually made my reading experience worse and I got really annoyed by it.
I did like the illustrations of this book (made by Quentin Blake), but once again – although they are very descriptive and most of the time nice and showed exactly the thing that happened, sometimes they’re scary, which is not really the best quality for kid’s book.
The story, if I forget all the inappropriate things, was okay. It wasn’t even close to ‘amazing’ I hoped it would be, it wasn’t very layered, just straight forward events. But you see, I rather enjoyed the first half (or more) of the book because the kid saw all the witches and there was stress – will the catch him? But after that point it just started to go straight to the happy ending, it felt like there weren’t any more life threatening situations (although there were and the description of them was just overly positive).
I also disliked the very end of the book, which shows how easy it is to fool police and how somehow nobody tries to ask grandmother, where her grandchild went and no one seems to care that he is not there anymore and she is just freely moving back to Norway. The ending was so mindblowingly ignorant that I was just so stunned by it and that there were shown no responsibilities or at least her dealing with police when they try to find the boy.
In conclusion I would say that this definitely is not a book to read to young children. Sure you might say that your parents used to read it to you, but you know what? You lived in a different generation, the world is a lot more dangerous now and this book obviously couldn’t predict it. I think parents could still read it, if they change the facts that could give a child the idea of bad habits and some of the scary chapters would be reduced, because children don’t need to be more stressed and scared.
You also might say that children see this bad behavior and habits every day, that you cannot save them from it all. Well – you don’t have to, just make sure that they don’t see, hear or learn it in your home from your hand, because children is the mirror of you.
My grandmother was also a smoker, but she never did it in front of me. She smoked for half of my life (she did quit on her own after like 25 years of smoking) and for a huge part I actually lived with her and I have never seen her with a cigarette in her hands or mouth.
I would say that this book can be read, but should be remade for parents needs in the modern days – adjusting the book to show that kids should go away with strangers or take anything from them. I understand that it wouldn’t really be authors work and idea anymore, but that would make it readable now as well.
I gave this book two starts out of five on my goodreads page and did so only after reconsidering how suitable for children it is, because as an adult I might give it three stars, but I am not the audience for this book and I have to look at it from a child’s point of view.