The Witches by Roald Dahl: Book Review

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Cover of The Witches by Roald Dahl

4 Stars

Our young British protagonist and his Norwegian grandmother know something that we don’t: Witches are real and they live among us. They look like sweet neighbor ladies but they’re keeping a lot of secrets. Chief among them? They want to wipe out the children of the world.

When Grandmamma and Grandson (do we ever learn his name?) go on vacation to the coast of England, they stumble on the annual witches’ meeting, led by The Grand High Witch herself. The witches have a plan to eliminate all the children of England at once! That won’t happen if Grandmamma and Grandson have anything to say about it.

Confession: I remember starting to watch this movie when I was little and spending the night at my grandmother’s house but it scared me to death. We had to turn it off. I told my husband this and he asked, “How old were you?” I looked up the release date of The Witches. It came out when I was 12. 12! And I was probably 13 by the time it came out on video or on tv or however I happened to catch it! What can I say? I was sheltered. And Anjelica Huston intimidates me to this day. I can just imagine facing her as a tween, on a screen or not. *shudder*

Now that I’m firmly in my 30s, I’m brave enough to read the source. It was so much fun! It was (obviously) scary and suspenseful enough to satisfy most children but it had an element of silliness and impossibility that captures the imagination. There’s really no such thing as a bald witch with claws, no toes, blue spit, and a removable face. But what if there were? *shiver*

I enjoyed Grandson’s bravery and Grandmamma’s willingness to let him take risks for his own well-being and that of others. How often do adults trust children with things like that? Probably not often enough if you’re looking through the eyes of a child. I also liked that Grandson turns what could be a disability into a strength. He never lets anything hold him back. In fact, he embraces the changes that come his way.

I absolutely loved the introduction, “A Note About Witches.” “In fairy-tales, witches always wear silly black hats and black cloaks, and they ride on broomsticks. But this is not a fairy-tale. This is about REAL WITCHES.” And in a suitably alarming tone, the facts about witches are laid out.

I loved the illustrations by Quentin Blake as well. They were silly but scary enough to match the story.

There’s a group of sheltered kids, like me, who this won’t be appropriate for. But if you and/or your child like a fun little fright, give this one a try. I’m glad I finally gave the book a chance. Now maybe I’ll be brave enough to try the movie again for Halloween…


I wish I could find a source I really trusted for this, but many, many sites seem to agree that the reason The Witches has been banned/challenged is because it’s misogynistic. Too bad they all seem to refer back to the same article. We’ll go with that though. As a woman who shies away from the “feminist” label and the negative connotations its acquired, I do nevertheless consider myself to be a feminist in its most basic terms, i.e. equality. It never even crossed my mind that I should be offended by this book. It’s about witches. Witches are females. Always have been, probably always will be. Maybe a female author will write a children’s book entitled The Wizards or The Warlocks and even things up. As a child, how many authority figures that you interact with regularly are female? Moms, teachers, librarians, school bus drivers–mostly women, at least in my experience. I felt the book was supposed to be a little subversive and challenging to authority. That would be mostly women in a child’s world. I think that’s slowly changing but it’s still a reality today. And besides, all this just feels like someone is over thinking things. Grandmamma is obviously a woman and she’s a hero! Some people just have no sense of humor.

Read an excerpt.

Buy The Witches at

photo credit: Old Books by Petr Kratochvil

I have an affiliate relationship with Malaprop’s, my local independent bookstore located in beautiful downtown Asheville, NC; and Better World Books. I will receive a small commission at no cost to you if you purchase books through links on my site. My opinions are completely my own.

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