Classics Club: The Witches – Roald Dahl

I don’t know why or how but when I was eight years old I saw the 1990 horror movie, The Witches. It was supposed to be for kids, but the imagery and effects were so disturbing at some points that I still remember the terror I felt. Even now, as an adult, the practical effects are still startling. I didn’t know until well into my adult years that this story was adapted from a Roald Dahl and for years now I’ve been wanting to read it. 

The story is about a little boy and his badass grandmother facing off against a coven of witches at a seaside hotel. The witches have crafted a new plan to get rid of kids once and for all (starting in England!) and our unlikely duo are the only ones who can stop them.  

When The Witches came out, the Satanic Panic was in full swing and ‘stranger danger’ was the vibe. Creepy dudes with candy ready to take your kids away, and witches look like something from a Halloween Spirit store. Definitely someone who would stand out and didn’t blend with society. 

What’s interesting about how the witches were portrayed in Dahl’s book is that they are everyday normal women, with regular wholesome jobs. People that children should automatically trust. I actually think it’s clever to express to kids that just because someone is ‘nice’, doesn’t mean they have your best interest at heart. Overall Dahl does a great job not talking down to kids, and in his books children are experiencing genuine danger, especially in The Witches

The heart of the book is the relationship between the boy and his grandmother. Their loss has brought them together and it’s clear how much they love and respect one another. Grandma trusts Luke and that he knows his capabilities. The ending, when both have to face the realities of the consequences of the battle they just went through, is very bittersweet and I actually cried. 

It is this ending that I think was the lone misstep the movie adaptation took. The 1990 movie follows the plot very closely until the very end, where they opted for a happy ending. Maybe after the horror show the director/writer decided to give children an intervening good witch? I don’t know the reason, but it does undercut the themes of the movie, where the book’s ending, while sad, matches the tone.

Even though this is a children’s book I think this is a great read for older kids and adults.  It’s brief but one that will stick with you. If you need a quick read to help get you in the spooky mood this season then consider The Witches

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