Playful, Simile-filled, Emphatic
All Work and No Play Would Make Roald a Dull Boy
Roald Dahl is nothing if not playful, and we see this most clearly in his writing style. Basically, he likes to make up words. Some of our favorites are tomfiddling (8.37), frumptious (8.55), and blabbersnitch (9.39). We also can't forget the made-up words that are then pronounced in a Grand High Witch accent, like "bogvumper" (8.34) and "grrrobblesqvirt" (9.41). To add to the playfulness, Roald Dahl uses a lot of words having to do with amazement, like "astonishing" (6.16) and "marvellous" (18.31). Did we mention he uses a lot of exclamation points? Did we?! The playful style of The Witches makes it a lot of fun to read and, as always, keeps us feeling like kids, whether we are or not.
As Simile-filled as The Witches
Boy does Roald Dahl like himself some similes. Comparing two unlike things is apparently right up his alley. After all, he's as smart as a Nobel Prize-winning blabbersnitch. (How do you like that simile?) We couldn't even begin to count the number of similes in The Witches – they're everywhere.
Often, the similes (which are really just colorful comparisons that jump-start our imaginations) are used to describe the witches, which makes sense since they're not something we're familiar with as readers. Comparisons are useful. He says, for example, that the gums of the first witch he meets "were like raw meat" (4.63) and he even uses a simile to describe the Grand High Witch's pronunciation of the letter "r": "She would roll it round and round her mouth like a piece of hot pork-crackling before spitting it out" (7.16). Even when they're not used to describe witches – like when he says his grandma was a "stiff as a marble statue" (14.7) – the similes still serve to create super rich images in our minds. and for that reason, give Quentin Blake, the illustrator, a little assistance.
Emphasis on the Emphasis
In a world full of strange happenings, we can very quickly forget that what we are reading about is "the gospel truth" (2.9). Maybe this is why, instead of mentioning things once, Roald Dahl likes to be more emphatic, repeating important ideas in various ways. For instance, the Grand High Witch's voice didn't just rasp: "It rasped. It grated. It snarled. It scarped. It shrieked. And it growled" (7.12). And when a witch attacks her victim, sparks sure fly, but that's not all: "Sparks fly. Flames leap. Oil boils. Rats howl. Skin shrivels" (1.14). You get the point. With emphasis and repetition, images become more vivid and we can better picture a world where these strange things really do happen.
What's a Book Without Pictures?
The Witches may have been written by Roald Dahl, but his words come to life through the illustrations of Quentin Blake. (Check out his website here). It seems silly to try to describe the illustrations in words – they're illustrations for a reason – but Shmoop couldn't leave them out of the discussion. Blake's black-and-white pencil drawings allow us to picture what a bald-headed, scab-covered, big-nostriled witch looks like. Also, for those of us somehow unfamiliar with the creatures described by Dahl, Blake shows us what a gruntle's egg, crabcruncher's claw, blabbersnitch's beak, and catspringer's tongue look like.
When there are no words to truly describe an image – which, with a literary talent like Dahl's, is not often – Quentin Blake comes to the rescue. One of the coolest examples of this is the before and after visual of the Grand High Witch with her mask on and then off. In one case, Dahl and Blake work explicitly together, expressly intertwining the illustrations with the text. In the first chapter, the narrator asks us: "Kindly examine the picture opposite. Which lady is the witch?" (1.23). Sure enough, on the opposite page, we find a picture of two women (neither of which seems very witch-like). Blake Quentin has literally illustrated Roald Dahl's point about the difficulty of discovering a witch.
Basically, this is not a book to be read online in some text-only format. The illustrations light up the words and draw us further into the fantastical world the author has created for us.