Still as wonderful today as it was when first released, here’s a quick summary of Roald Dahl’s darkly humorous and imaginative story, The Witches.
Short Summary of The Witches
In Roald Dahl’s The Witches, we are introduced to a world where witches are real and they loathe children. The narrator, an unnamed seven-year-old boy, becomes an orphan after a tragic accident and is sent to live with his Norwegian grandmother, a wise woman who knows much about witches. She educates him on how to identify a witch. They are cunning creatures that disguise themselves as ordinary women, despite being bald, clawed, and square-footed.
The boy and his grandmother eventually move to England. While planning a vacation, they unwittingly book a stay at a hotel where the witches’ annual convention is to be held, led by the Grand High Witch herself. During the convention, which the boy secretly witnesses, the Grand High Witch reveals a diabolical plan to turn all the children in England into mice by spiking sweets with a magical potion.
Discovered eavesdropping, the boy is transformed into a mouse – but he is not alone. A gluttonous boy named Bruno Jenkins suffers the same fate. As mice, they retain their human intelligence and speech, enabling them to communicate with the boy’s grandmother and devise a counterattack. With cleverness and determination, they steal some of the potion and turn the tables on the witches, spiking their soup with the concoction during dinner.
The witches are transformed into mice, causing chaos and panic. The hotel staff, thinking there is an infestation, exterminate them. With the witches gone, the boy and his grandmother devise a plan to protect other children. Using the Grand High Witch’s money and list of witches in other countries, they set out on a mission to eradicate them worldwide.
Despite the boy’s new form as a mouse, his grandmother reassures him that they will have a full life together, as he will likely live for about nine years, and she will likely live for about that same amount of time. Thus, they embark on their international quest, fortified by love and a shared mission, ending the book on a note of hope and adventure.
Also check out our short summary of Charlie and the Chocolate Factory.
Key Themes of The Witches
Good vs. Evil: The eternal struggle between good and evil is central to The Witches. The boy and his grandmother represent good, while the witches embody evil. This theme is highlighted when the boy, even after being turned into a mouse, bravely battles the witches’ evil schemes.
Courage and Resilience: Despite his young age and the shock of being turned into a mouse, the boy’s courage and resilience shine through as he fights against the witches. His ability to adapt to his new form and still plot against the witches is a testament to this theme.
Deception and Appearances: Dahl makes it clear that witches hide in plain sight, looking like normal women. This teaches the reader not to trust appearances and illustrates how evil can be concealed behind a benign facade. An example of this is when the Grand High Witch removes her human-like mask to reveal the true, hideous witch beneath.
Family and Love: The relationship between the boy and his grandmother is the emotional core of the story. It is their love for each other that gives them strength, illustrating the power of familial bonds.
For the Greater Good: The boy’s transformation into a mouse is a form of sacrifice. He loses his human form but goes on to save England’s children. It shows that sometimes, unfortunate personal loss can still lead to the greater good of others.
- Roald Dahl reportedly wrote The Witches in a small hut in his garden, which he used as his writing sanctuary.
- The Witches was first published in 1983 and has been adapted into various forms. This includes stage plays and a film directed by Nicolas Roeg.
- Dahl’s depiction of witches was criticized for misogyny by some groups, as it portrayed women as the villains of the piece.
- The book’s distinct blend of horror and humor has made it a subject of study in children’s literature courses, dissecting how Dahl plays with genre conventions.
✅ Worth checking out!
- Roald Dahl (Author)
- English (Publication Language)
- 208 Pages - 11/28/1997 (Publication Date) - scholastic Inc (Publisher)