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The Witches

The Witches

by Roald Dahl

The Narrator

Character Analysis

Our nameless narrator certainly makes a name for himself. As a seven-year-old, he defeats the entire witch population of England. Fancy. This isn't an accident. This guy has all the qualities it takes to be a successful bad-guy-getter, and he's humble to boot.

The Family (Mouse-)Man

Life deals our narrator a tough hand. But instead of feeling lost and family-less when his parents die, he turns to his grandma, and she alone becomes his family. Both as a human and a mouse-person, our narrator gives Grandmamma enough love and devotion to satisfy a whole hotel's worth of families. Think about it. When he finds out that he only has nine years to live, he doesn't even blink a mouse eye before he proclaims his happiness:

"How long does a mouse-person live, Grandmamma?" […]

[…] "About nine years."

"Good!" I cried. "That's great! It's the best news I've ever had!" (21.27)

Why? Well, he loves his grandma so much that he only wants to live as long as she will, and she'll probably only live for another nine years too. How's that for a devoted grandson? Shmoop's lucky if we remember to call our grandparents once a week. We all have something to learn from our caring and devoted narrator.

Curiosity May Have Killed the Cat, but it Saved the Mouse

Our narrator sure asks a lot of questions. He probably asks more questions than he makes statements. On the one hand, this is a helpful plot device. If Roald Dahl wants to give the answer to a question, he just has his narrator ask it – easy peasy. Still, the narrator asks questions about things that seem to be pretty irrelevant to plot, too. Like, unless Shmoop is totally missing something, we're pretty sure the answer to "What did you use for bait, Grandmamma, when you went fishing?" (5.3) isn't a crucial plot point.

What purpose does our narrator's curiosity serve? If you think about it, without his knack for adventure and learning new things, he would never have been able to even spot a witch, let alone take a whole country of them down. He wants to know everything there is to know about witches, and it's with this information that he's able to defeat them.

Courage Under Carving Knives

One thing this young man is not lacking is courage. From the little things – like training his mice in the hotel even though he knows he's under close watch – to the big things – like risking his life to save the children of England – our narrator exudes bravery. Once again, this is a trait that he can't do without. Especially with his very blunt grandma reminding him of all the dangers he's about to encounter, he needs this courage. Take this exchange, for example:

"It's going to be very dangerous," my grandmother said. "Nobody welcomes a mouse in the kitchen. If they see you, they'll squash you to death."

"I won't let them see me," I said.

"Don't forget you'll be carrying the bottle," she said, "so you won't be nearly so quick and nippy."

"I can run quite fast standing up with the bottle in my arms," I said. "I did it just now, don't you remember? I came all the way up from The Grand High Witch's room carrying it."

"What about unscrewing the top?" she said. "That might be difficult for you." (17.19-23)

When someone twelve times your age tells you over and over... and over... that what you're doing, though heroic, is very dangerous, and you still do it – now that's courage.

Mice Have Nine Lives, Too

Well, our narrator-mouse may not actually have nine lives, but he sure is resilient. That means that he bounces back quickly from bad situations. We see this right away when we learn about the death of his parents. Of course he's sad (he doesn't really like to talk about it), but with the love of his grandma, he survives and moves on with his young life. His resilience also shines through once he's turned into a mouse. It takes about one-millionth of a second for him to adapt to his new body ["I was off across the platform like a streak of lightning! […] I was feeling quite remarkably well" (12.20)], and, actually, he kind of digs it.

Through the Eyes of a Child

Perhaps the most important thing about our narrator is that he's a kid – plain and simple. Having a seven-year-old boy tell us our story puts us on his team. We're rooting for the children all the way, and we get to do so with the childlike wonder of our narrator. Whether we're kids or grown-ups, everyone reading this book feels the excitement of childhood, all because of our narrator.

Timeline
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