The Witches by Roald Dahl

“The most important thing you should know about REAL WITCHES is this. Listen very carefully. Never forget what is coming next. REAL WITCHES dress in ordinary clothes and look very much like ordinary women. They live in ordinary houses and they work in ORDINARY JOBS. That is why they are so hard to catch.”

Genre: Fantasy, Adventure, Fiction

Book Jacket Synopsis: “This is not a fairy tale. This is about real witches. Grandmamma loves to tell about witches. Real witches are the most dangerous of all living creatures on earth. There’s nothing they hate so much as children, and they work all kinds of terrifying spells to get rid of them. Her grandson listens closely to Grandmamma’s stories – but nothing can prepare him for the day he comes face-to-face with The Grand High Witch herself!”

Review: I read The Witches once, a very long time ago, and was excited to reread the novel. My general consensus is that The Witches is a highly imaginative and enjoyable example of children’s fantasy. However, this is one book where I am finding it somewhat difficult to keep my age from influencing my thoughts on the book. Part of my problem is that I keep comparing The Witches to some of my favorite fantasy books and, quite frankly, it falls short. But if I pull back and take The Witches for what it was designed to be (children’s fantasy), I do have to give Dahl credit for an adventurous and creative tale. Like James and the Giant Peach, The Witches is not my favorite work from Dahl, but it is definitely a fun book.

Reason for Ban/Challenge: From 1990-1999, The Witches held the 22nd spot on the American Library Association’s list of most banned/challenged books. Complaints against The Witches are somewhat more varied than I typically see when reading banned and challenged books. For example, The Witches has been accused of being misogynistic. My best guess is that this line of reasoning stems from the fact that, according to Dahl, only women can be witches. He writes:

“A witch is always a woman. I do not wish to speak badly about women. Most women are lovely. But the fact remains that all witches are women. There is no such thing as a male witch. On the other hand, a ghoul is always a male. So indeed is a barghest. Both are dangerous. But neither of them is half as dangerous as a REAL WITCH.”

In a similar vein, some critics consider the book sexist. I must admit, certain passages in The Witches did come off as sounding rather antiquated, but I doubt that these undertones have any impact at all on the target audience. The mere mention of witches has also led some to claim that the book promotes satanic views. I think I would have to heartily agree with what Roald Dahl himself said when interviewed about a potential school ban, instigated by several parents, at an English elementary school:

“This book is a fantasy and an enormous joke. We all know that witches don’t exist, not the way I’ve written about them. They are parents without any sense of humor at all.”




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