Study Guide

The Witches Quotes

By Roald Dahl

  • Transformation

    "She was simply a part of the painting, just a picture painted on the canvas." (2.31)

    According to Grandmamma, Solveg Christiansen was transformed by witches into a figure in a painting. This is different than some of the other transformations we see in the book, because Solveg can't continue to talk to her family or friends, like our narrator can once he's a mouse. If the witches are capable of it, why don't they just put all of the children into a painting, where they would have to be alone?

    "After tventy-six seconds, child is not a child any longer. It is a mouse!" (8.54)

    After our narrator's transformation, we find out that this isn't exactly true. A child is no longer a child, but it's not a mouse either – it's a child-mouse. A child-mouse can still do most of the things a child can do, he's just a little smaller.

    It was astonishing how the mask transformed her. All of a sudden she became once again a rather pretty young lady. (10.9)

    The Grand High Witch is so monstrous that she has to wear a mask. With it, she's rather pretty; without it, she looks as though her face has been "pickled in vinegar" (7.7). Talk about a difference. In the end, though, the mask doesn't truly transform her. In the same way that our narrator doesn't change personalities when he becomes a mouse, the Grand High Witch is just as evil, mask or not.

    Bruno was getting smaller by the second. I could see him shrinking...

    Now his clothes seemed to be disappearing and brown fur was growing all over his body...

    Suddenly he had a tail...

    And then he had whiskers...

    Now he had four feet. (10.26-30)

    Can you imagine this? Literally, can you picture it in your head? Creepy, right? Quentin Blake, the illustrator, probably had a wonderful time drawing this, and what he came up with is worth checking out.

    <em>I am not myself any longer! </em>(12.15)

    This phrase is kind of an oxymoron, right? That means it doesn't really make any sense because it contradicts itself. If you say "I," you can't not be yourself anymore. That turns out to be exactly true for our narrator. He is himself, just in mouse form.

    <em>Yes, </em>I told myself, <em>I don't think it is at all a bad thing to be a mouse</em>. (13.7)

    Our narrator handles his mouse transformation pretty stinkin' well. Can you imagine if you were turned into a mouse? How would you feel? Shmoop would not be very happy about it, unless of course, there were mice-sized keyboards so we could continue Shmooping.

    "Oh, by the way, you do realise you've got a tail, don't you?" […]

    "I must say that never occurred to me," I said. "Good gracious me, so I have! I can see it now! I can actually move it! It <em>is</em> rather grand, isn't it?" (18.16)

    How funny that our narrator-mouse doesn't even realize he has a tail until his grandma mentions it. One more piece of proof that he doesn't necessarily feel different – he knows he can run fast, but, unless he looks in a mirror, he doesn't really know how different he looks. His transformation was only physical – nothing about his feelings or personality changed.

    I watched him with envy. For weeks I had been trying to whistle like that but I hadn't succeeded once. Now I never would. (20.26)

    This is one of the few times that our narrator seems a little disappointed about his transformation. It's not because he can't do big things, like go to school or ride a bike. It's because he can't whistle. It's the little things that bother us the most sometimes.

    It was lovely to be back in Norway once again in my grandmother's fine old house. But now that I was so small, everything looked different and it took me quite a while to find my way around. (21.1)

    Physical transformation leads to a change in perspective. Think about it this way. If you give a camera to a three-year-old and ask them to take pictures, you're going to get way different pictures than you would if you gave the camera to an adult. Kids and adults physically just can't see the same things. Now, imagine giving that camera to a mouse. Well, you get the point.

    "I don't mind at all," I said. "It doesn't matter who you are or what you look like so long as somebody loves you." (21.52)

  • Awe and Amazement

    I gazed up at my grandmother who sat there like some ancient queen on her throne. (2.42)

    A lot of times in <em>The Witches</em>, it's the little things that amaze our narrator. Here we have just his good ol' Grandmamma sitting on her chair at home, and he sees her as a queen. What other little things does the narrator find amazing?

    "How do you know all this, Grandmamma?" (3.13)

    Knowledge is an awe-inspiring thing. You don't have to look incredible or achieve some great feat in order to be amazing. Simply knowing can be exciting. For example, think of how amazed your friends will be when you can tell them all about the theme of awe in <em>The Witches</em>.

    I reeled. I was stunned. "<em>Dogs' droppings!" </em>I cried. "I am <em>not</em> smelling of dogs' droppings! I don't believe it! I <em>won't</em> believe it!" (3.50)

    There is a big difference between "I don't believe it" and "I <em>won't</em> believe it." By the end of <em>The Witches</em>, though, our narrator can't say he <em>won't </em>believe it anymore – he's seen it to be true, so he has no choice.

    "Never!" I cried. "Oh no, Grandmamma! That couldn't be true!" (4.34)

    Here, our narrator could be responding to anything: a story about a witch turning a child into stone; the fact that there are witches all over the world; or even the sad truth that he and his grandma have to move back to England. Yet what he's really responding to is the fact that "witches are able to make the grown-ups eat their own children" (4.33). That's a little worse than all those other options, but because our narrator is amazed by everything – seriously, everything – it could be interchangeable.

    What a splendid place this was! (5.58)

    Our narrator is reacting to the ballroom in the hotel: huge, with rows of beautiful chairs and a thick carpet. How does the feeling of the room change once the witches come in for their meeting?

    "I've heard about that!" my grandmother cried out excitedly. "But I never quite believed it! You are the first non-witch ever to see it happening!" (14.39)

    Before now, no human has ever seen the Grand High Witch perform her famous magic trick of turning another witch into a puff of smoke with her eyes. Grandmamma is amazed by this. It's like the difference between seeing a news report on a super-fast, new roller coaster and talking to your friend who just rode it. It's much more amazing getting the news firsthand.

    By golly, what a place that kitchen was! The noise! And the steam! And the clatter of pots and pans! And the cooks all shouting! And the waiters all rushing in and out from the Dining-Room yelling the food orders to the cooks! (18.24)

    Again with the exclamation points. This time, though, it's a scene that takes place every day in our world as readers. We may not be chefs, but we know that kitchens are hectic places. What's cool is that, even though our narrator is about to kill off all the witches of England, he's still in awe of something as everyday as a kitchen.

    By golly, I thought, what marvellous things a mouse can do! And I'm only a beginner! (18.31)

    Our narrator is amazed even at <em>himself</em>. He can't believe the acrobatic moves he can do as a mouse. What other skills does he have as a mouse that surprise him?

    "Any other English father would be just as cross as you are. But over in Norway where I come from, we are quite used to these sort of happenings. We have learnt to accept them as part of everyday life." (19.9)

    Things are different in England than they are in Norway. Norwegians are used to witches, so it's not as shocking to see a boy turned into a mouse. This actually raises a real-world issue that's important to remember: every culture has different customs. There are plenty of things that people in other cultures do that we would be shocked by, and vice versa.

    Mr Jenkins's mouth dropped open so wide I could see the gold fillings in his back teeth. (19.16)

    Not too bad a reaction for a guy whose son has just been turned into a mouse. Everyone expresses awe and amazement (good or bad) in different ways, though. What are some of the more common ways to express these sentiments?

  • Lies and Deceit

    What makes her doubly dangerous is the fact that she doesn't <em>look </em>dangerous. (1.22)

    Interestingly enough, this applies to our narrator as well. First of all, he's seven years old. Secondly, he's a mouse. We can't think of a less dangerous seeming creature (except maybe a six-year-old mouse?) Yet, he single-handedly defeats all the witches of England.

    [A witch] might even – and this will make you jump – she might even be your lovely school-teacher who is reading these words to you at this very moment. Look carefully at that teacher. Perhaps she is smiling to you at the absurdity of such a suggestion. Don't let that put you off. It could be part of her cleverness. (1.27)

    Shmoop got quite a kick out of this. From the very first chapter, Roald Dahl uses some cute humor to keep this otherwise violent and scary book lighthearted. Because we mean, of course your teacher isn't a witch... is she?

    "A REAL WITCH always wears a wig to hide her baldness. She wears a first-class wig." (3.22)

    These days, a lot of people wear wigs for a lot of different reasons: to perform (like an actor); because they have lost their hair due to an illness; or even just because they don't like their own hair the way it is. Are all of these people deceiving?

    "They <em>look </em>like women. They talk like women. And they are able to act like women. But in actual fact, they are totally different animals. They are demons in human shape. That is why they have claws and bald heads and queer noses and peculiar eyes, all of which they have to conceal as best they can from the rest of the world." (3.60)

    Witches aren't even human. For that reason, can we call their wigs and shoes and gloves a disguise? Isn't it more of a costume? (Like, if a human dresses as, say, a witch, we're not in disguise, we're in costume, right?) What's the difference?

    I couldn't believe my grandmother would be lying to me. She went to church every morning of the week and she said grace before every meal, and somebody who did that would never tell lies. I was beginning to believe every word she spoke. (3.88)

    Well, this is quite a claim, especially because, later on, we see that Grandmamma can tell a lie – quite a few, in fact.

    "But Grandmamma," I said, "if nobody has ever seen The Grand High Witch, how can you be so sure she exists?"

    My grandmother gave me a long and very severe look. "Nobody has ever seen the Devil," she said, "but we know he exists." (4.58-59)

    How is it possible to believe something you've never seen? Why do we trust the universal truths that are told to us? Well, sometimes it's important not to. If Copernicus had done that, we might still think that the sun revolved around the earth.

    Very slowly, the young lady on the platform raised her hands to her face. I saw her gloved fingers unhooking something behind her ears, and then…then she caught hold of her cheeks and lifted her face clean away! The whole of the pretty face came away in her hands!
    It was a mask! (7.4-5)

    A mask is probably the most drastic form of disguise. Put on a hat and gloves, or get a new hairstyle, and everyone you know will probably still recognize you. Wear a mask, though, and you won't be recognized. Check out Quentin Blake's illustrations of this for some proof.

    "You may rrree-moof your gloves!" […]

    "You may rrree-moof your shoes!" […]

    "You may rrree-moof your vigs!" (7.12, 14, 16)

    This dramatic stripping of the witches' disguises is really neat. It shows us how aware the witches are of their deception. Each of these pieces – gloves, shoes, wigs – is carefully worn in order to hide something particular about their witchy bodies.

    "Do you not know," she shouted at them, "that vee vitches are vurrrking only vith magic?" (8.38)

    In a world where magic exists, is it a form of deception?

    "He's not feeling very well," my grandmother said. "He's staying in his room." (18.17)

    Aha! We caught Grandmamma in one of her lies. This raises the question though: is it okay to tell a white lie if is serves a greater purpose? When is it okay to lie?

  • Appearances

    <em>REAL WITCHES dress in ordinary clothes and look very much like ordinary women. </em>(1.4)

    Simply through dressing like women and making themselves look like women, witches can be mistaken for women. It's crazy to think how much our looks can trick the outside world.

    Kindly examine the picture opposite. Which lady is the witch? That is a difficult question, but it is one that every child must try to answer. (1.23)

    Here, Roald Dahl integrates Quentin Blake's illustrations into the book, by having the reader try to figure out which of the drawings is an ordinary woman and which one is a witch. It makes us feel like we're really involved in the book and that our narrator wants us to pay attention. In a book without illustrations, could Roald Dahl have still accomplished this? How?

    "[A witch] doesn't have finger-nails. Instead of finger-nails, she has thin curvy claws, like a cat, and she wears the gloves to hide them." (3.10)

    Do you notice that the things that are strange about a witch are always extremities? They're always at the edges of her body: her fingernails (or lack thereof), her hair (or lack thereof), her toes (or, yep, lack thereof). Why do you think this is? Why doesn't a witch have a strangely shaped stomach or a really long neck?

    "<em>Bald?" I said.</em>

    "Bald as a boiled egg," my grandmother said.

    I was shocked. There was something indecent about a bald woman. (3.15-17)

    Some of the things about the witches aren't really unattractive, they're just... different. Granted, a human being with claws is a little odd because it reminds us of an animal, but a bald woman? There are plenty of those. Heck, two of the best female contestants on the first season of <em>The Voice </em>were bald, not to mention <em>America's Next Top Model. </em>

    I kept looking at the hand with the missing thumb. I couldn't help it. I was fascinated by it (4.15)

    Grandmamma is missing a thumb (from an encounter with a witch, we're led to believe). But our narrator isn't grossed out by <em>this</em>. Stumpy witch feet? Yeah. Missing Grandmamma thumb? Nope. We wonder if the situation were reversed, and all the witches were missing thumbs and Grandmamma was missing her toes, would the narrator's reactions be different?

    I simply cannot tell you how awful they were, and somehow the whole sight was made more grotesque because underneath those frightful scabby bald heads, the bodies were dresses in fashionable and rather pretty clothes. It was monstrous. It was unnatural. (7.17)

    Contrast is important here. The witches are ugly, but they're made even uglier because their disguises are pretty. Like, if you put Voldemort next to Kreacher the House Elf, he might look like Brad Pitt.

    <em>Bruno looked down at his paws. He jumped. "Good grief!" he cried. "I am</em> a mouse!" (13.25)

    Granted, Bruno is a little slow – who can't tell they're a mouse when they're only two inches off the ground? – but we can't blame him too much for being so clueless. Without a mirror, we might not know what we look like. It's funny to think that the people we spend our time with probably know what we look like better than we do, especially because, when we do look at ourselves, we're always looking at a mirror image. Have you ever seen a picture of yourself and thought, "Hey, I thought that freckle was on my other cheek!"? Well, there you have it.

    "It's quite simple," my grandmother said. "All they've done is to shrink you and give you four legs and a furry coat, but they haven't been able to change you into a one hundred per cent mouse. You are still yourself in everything except your appearance." (14.52)

    Appearances can only change so much about us, but our core stays the same. You might cut your hair, change your wardrobe, or pierce your ears, but you're still you. Shmoop might redo its homepage, but it's still Shmoop at heart.

    "Quite right, she said. "You are a human in mouse's clothing. You are very special." (14.54)

    Even though our narrator looks like a mouse, he's really a human. His appearance only affects the way he relates to the world physically. The way he relates to the world emotionally is still the same.

    "It's amazing," my grandmother said. "It looks just like a real face. Even though I knew it was a mask, I still couldn't tell." (15.34)

    Looks can be deceiving, even when you know you're being deceived by them.

  • Violence

    <em>One child a week is fifty-two a year.

    Squish them and squiggle them and make them disappear. </em>(1.11-12)

    This is the witches' motto. It's violent, yes, but not very catchy. Can you come up with something better?

    A witch, you must understand, does not knock children on the head or stick knives into them or shoot at them with a pistol. People who do those things get caught by the police. (1.15)

    Roald Dahl has a way of slipping in really violent images even when they're not necessary. Here, when he's talking about things that witches <em>don't</em> do, he manages to include some of the most violent images in the book. Because they're <em>not</em> happening, though, it seems acceptable to discuss them. If the witches <em>were </em>actually sticking knives into children, we would probably be shocked when we read it.

    "I've known English witches," she went on, who have turned children into pheasants and then sneaked the pheasants up into the woods the very day before the pheasant-shooting season opened."

    "Owch," I said. "So they get shot?"

    "Of course they get shot," she said. "And then they get plucked and roasted and eaten for supper." (4.23-25)

    The words "of course" are striking here. In the world of <em>The Witches</em>, it's not surprising for children to get turned into pheasants and then get shot. If that weren't enough, they get eaten for dinner, too. So, it seems like Roald Dahl isn't using violence for the shock factor – instead, he's almost trying to make it seem normal. Is this okay in a book written for children? What do you think?

    "My orders are that every single child in this country shall be rrrubbed out, sqvashed, sqvirted, sqvittered and frrrittered before I come here again in vun year's time! Do I make myself clear?" (7.41)

    Lesson in demographics: there are over ten million children in England under the age of eighteen. You think these 84 witches could have succeeded in their plan if the narrator hadn't gotten in their way?

    "A stupid vitch who answers back
    Must burn until her bones are black!" (7.47)

    The violence in this book isn't reserved only for children. The Grand High Witch is perfectly content burning one of her fellow witches. That's just to say that violence isn't always associated with hatred. In the case of the Grand High Witch, it's performed on a whim, too, just because she's annoyed.

    I saw the sparks striking against her and burrowing into her and she screamed a horrible howling scream and a puff of smoke rose up around her. A smell of burning meat filled the room. (7.48)

    Roald Dahl appeals to many of our senses when describing violence – the sight of sparks, the sound of a scream, and the resulting smell. It's not enough to see someone burned into a puff of smoke, we also have to imagine what it smelled like after. Ew. And when you remember that the "burning meat" is actually flesh, it's even more gross.

    "All over school, mouse-trrraps is going <em>snappety-snap</em> and mouse-heads is rrrolling across the floors like marbles!" (8.62)

    Sometimes, when reading <em>The Witches, </em>we just get so used to these violent images that they don't shock us anymore. In this case, maybe it's because mice getting caught in traps isn't anything new to us. Still, though, we have to remember that these mice are actually children (who think and feel like humans still) and it is <em>their</em> heads that are "rrrolling across the floor like marbles!"

    "Down with children! Do them in!
    Boil their bones and fry their skin!" (8.64)

    There's a lot of rhyming in <em>The Witches</em>, particularly when describing violence. How do you think this changes the way we perceive the violence?

    "We'll have his tripes for breakfast! […] Cut off his head and chop off his tail and fry him in hot butter!" (9.12, 17)

    Please excuse this interruption while we bring you a little culinary lesson. Tripes are intestines. These are our narrator's tripes that we're talking about!

    <em>I know that mice get hunted and they sometimes get poisoned or caught in traps. But little boys sometimes get killed, too. Little boys can be run over by motor-cars or they can die of some awful illness. </em>(13.6)

    Once again we have terribly violent images of very <em>real</em> things. The violence in <em>The Witches</em> isn't reserved for fantastical images or non-humans.

  • Family

    The fact that I am still here and able to speak to you (however peculiar I may look) is due entirely to my wonderful grandmother. (2.1)

    Do you agree with this comment by our narrator? Do you think he needed his Grandmamma in order to survive his adventure? Either way, how does this comment – made toward the beginning of the book – change the way we view his relationship with his grandma?

    "Of course I don't," she said. "But I am afraid I must. The will said that you mother felt the same way about it, and it is important to respect the wishes of the parents." (4.10)

    Grandmamma doesn't want to move to England – she is attached to her beloved Norway – but she will move there for her grandson. This shows her sense of sacrifice not only for her grandson (she'd do anything for him), but also for her deceased daughter and son-in-law. Family is clearly important to Grandmamma.

    "Yes," my grandmother answered at last. "She's gone. I'm here, my darling. I'll look after you. You can come down now." (4.86)

    Grandmamma is tough as nails and pretty stubborn. Once in a while, though, her caring, compassionate side shines through.

    "Oh yes," the nurse answered, smiling. "She told us she simply had to get better because she had to look after you." (5.22)

    Grandmamma is more concerned about her grandson than she is about her own health. Do you think the opposite is true, too?

    Oh Grandmamma, what are they going to do to me? (12.1)

    This sounds like something our narrator might have said in a conversation with his grandma, right? Yet he actually <em>thinks</em> this when his grandma isn't anywhere nearby! This just goes to show you that their bond is so tight that, even when he's thinking to himself, he's thinking to his grandma, too.

    <em>My grandmother is a human, but I know for certain that she will always love me whoever I am. </em>(13.6)

    Well isn't this just the sappiest thing you've ever heard? Yep. The fact that our narrator doesn't even blink an eye when thinking this, though, shows how sure he is of his grandma's unconditional love for him.

    "I know I'm not a boy any longer and I never will be again, but I'll be quite all right as long as there's always you to look after me." (14.16)

    In some ways, our narrator needs his grandma more now than when he was a boy. As we see toward the end, she has to rig up some strange gadgets to help him get around, and she even has to construct a mouse toothbrush for him. He's not kidding when he says he'll always need her to look after him. As a boy, he would have grown into a man and not needed her anymore. As a mouse, he'll always need her help.

    "You're doing beautifully," I said. (18.65)

    Shmoop thinks this is a sweet moment. This sounds like something a grandma (or mom or other adult) might say to a child. Instead, we hear our narrator saying it to his grandma, assuring her that she's doing a great job keeping everything on the DL. This not only shows how mature our narrator is, but shows what a mutually loving and caring relationship he has with his Grandmamma.

    "Because I would never want to live longer than you," I said. "I couldn't stand being looked after by anybody else." (21.29)

    This is a bittersweet moment, don't you think? Our narrator is happy to hear that he'll only live about nine years longer because he doesn't want to exist in this world without his grandma. Clearly he loves his grandma more than anything, but Shmoop knows that life is definitely worth living even if you lose someone you love.

    "Have <em>you</em> ever heard my heart humming away, Grandmamma?" I asked her.

    "Often," she said. "I hear it when you are lying very close to me on the pillow at night." (21.48-49)

    Have you ever been close enough to someone to hear their heart beat? If so, it was probably someone in your family, right? There are certain things that are shared with just the lucky few in life, and listening to a heartbeat is one of them. (Unless you're a doctor, of course.)

  • Hate

    A REAL WITCH hates children with a red-hot sizzling hatred that is more sizzling and red-hot than any hatred you could possibly imagine. (1.6)

    Well that's put in no uncertain terms. Roald Dahl sets it out for us right from the beginning that witches hate children. This is a fact about witches, and it's as clear as clear can be.

    A REAL WITCH gets the same pleasure from squelching a child as <em>you</em> get from eating a plateful of strawberries and thick cream. (1.9)

    This is such a lovely example of Roald Dahl turning something incredibly violent and traumatic into a playful, lighthearted image. He's comparing the violent death of a child to eating a super-sweet and delicious dessert. In some ways, it makes it all the more unsettling. At the same time, though, the image we're left with isn't the squelching, but the strawberries and cream. Yum.

    "[T]heir favourite ruse is to mix up a powder that will turn a child into some creature or other that all grown-ups hate." (4.17)

    Not only do witches have a huge amount of hate inside them, they can inspire hate in others. They know what makes adults cringe, and they feed off that to carry out their evil plans.

    "Miserrrable vitches!" she yelled. "Useless lazy vitches! Feeble frrribling vitches! You are a heap of idle good-for-nothing vurms!" (7.31)

    Hatred within a group can sometimes be the worst kind. People tend to hate those outside their group (whether social, familial, religious, ethnic, or anything else) because they don't understand the other. But the Grand High Witch certainly knows what it's like to be a witch, and yet she still hates the rest of 'em. This isn't ignorance, this is just mean.

    "Vye have you not rrrubbed them all out, these filthy smelly children?" (7.33)

    Shmoop wonders what the Grand High Witch is doing to help eliminate all these children? She seems to hate them more than any of the other witches, but we never hear about the number of kids that she's rubbing out herself. What do you think her story is? She can talk the talk, but can she walk the walk?

    "Children smell!" she screamed. "They stink up the vurld! Vee do not vont these children around here!" (7.37)

    Can children's smell really be deserving of death? That's kind of extreme, no?

    "Children are foul and filthy!" thundered The Grand High Witch.

    "They are! They are!" chorused the English witches. "They are foul and filthy!"

    "Children are dirty and stinky!" screamed The Grand High Witch.

    "Dirty and stinky!" cried the audience, getting more and more worked up. (8.3-6)

    Everything the Grand High Witch says is echoed by the rest of the witches. This very clearly shows the power of a charismatic leader to inspire hatred. The Grand High Witch comes from a long line of hateful leaders who created a following – can you think of any examples?


    Here, the witches take it beyond just killing children. It is not enough to kill a child, they must rejoice in his or her death, too, and "shout hooray!" Recently, the world's most wanted man, Osama Bin Laden, was killed. Many people rejoiced in his death – saying that he killed thousands of people, so he deserved it – and others argued that it's never appropriate to celebrate death. What do you think?

    I didn't care for him. (10.13)

    Shmoop loves this line. Among all the explicitly stated hatred going on in the book, our narrator is so polite and understated when expressing his feelings about Bruno Jenkins. He just doesn't care for him. Period.

    "A mouse! A mouse! Catch it quick! […] Kill it! Stamp on it!" (18.34)

    In the kitchen, the cooks catch sight of our narrator-mouse and try to kill him. How is this any different than the witches trying to kill a child? Why do you think we're less sensitive to the death of a mouse than the death of a child?

  • Cunning and Cleverness

    [A witch's] mind will always be plotting and scheming and churning and burning and whizzing and phizzing with murderous bloodthirsty thoughts. (1.7)

    It seems like the witches put all of their brainpower into their cunning. Our narrator, on the other hand, has plenty of time for other things – like loving his Grandma and enjoying the little wonders of the world.

    "I have brrrought vith me six trrrunks stuffed full of Inklish banknotes, all new and crrrisp. And all of them," she added with a fiendish leer, "all of them homemade." (8.29)

    The fact that the Grand High Witch makes counterfeit money shows that she's clever not only in her plans to squelch children, but also in other circumstances. Are there any other instances in the book where she proves to be extra sneaky?

    "You brrrainless bogvumper! Are you not rrree-alising that if you are going rrround poisoning little children you vill be caught in five minutes flat? Never in my life am I hearing such a boshvolloping suggestion coming from a vitch!" (8.34)

    Like the brainless bogvumper of a vitch that suggested poisoning the children, anyone can come up with a plan. The tough part is figuring out how to not get caught. When our narrator hatches his plan, what efforts does <em>he</em> put into not getting caught?

    "And the beauty of it is that the teachers will be the ones who bump off the stinking little children! It won't be us doing it! We shall never be caught!" (9.3)

    In addition to not getting caught, the witches actually have a scapegoat, someone they blame for what they actually did themselves. That's smart – and kind of nasty.

    "What did you come up with, O Brainy One?" they called out. "Tell us the great secret!"

    "The secret," announced the Grand High Witch triumphantly, "is an <em>alarm-clock!</em>"

    "An alarm-clock!" they cried. "It's a stroke of genius!" (9.31-33)

    The witches really admire the cleverness of The Grand High Witch. It's worth noticing, though, that the Grand High Witch isn't much of a teacher. A good teacher would have asked her students if <em>they</em> could think of a way to delay the activation of the Mouse-Maker. You know what? A few of them probably would have come up with it. Instead, she maintains her power by providing all the ideas and all the answers and not letting the witches realize that she's not as brainy as she may seem.

    "Grandmamma," I said. "I may have a bit of an idea." (14.56)

    Compare these humble words to the pompous declarations of The Grand High Witch when she's providing the witches with her Mouse-Maker recipe. Our narrator is excited about the idea itself, not the fact that he <em>had</em> the idea. The Grand High Witch does the opposite: she emphasizes her thought process, instead of the idea itself.

    "What an idea!" she cried. "It's fantastic! It's tremendous! You're a genius, my darling!" (14.77)

    Here, Grandmamma is praising her grandson's idea. How strange, though – she sounds just like the witches praising The Grand High Witch's ideas. Do you think Roald Dahl did this for a reason? If so, what effect should it have?

    No witch would be stupid enough to leave anything suspicious lying around for the hotel maid to see. (15.6)

    see. (15.6)
    Even though he is trying to take down the witches, our narrator still knows and respects their cunning nature. He wouldn't expect any less.

    Eureka! I felt tremendously pleased with myself. (15.10)

    Our narrator is really sneaky and clever, but the second his plan succeeds, he starts celebrating. This gets him into trouble, and, more literally, into the pants of a cook.

    "That's great," my grandmother said. "You really are a very clever mouse." (17.25)

    Grandmamma seems to compliment our narrator quite a bit for his cleverness. What other compliment-worthy qualities does he have?

  • Youth

    [Y]ou might just possibly manage to escape from being squelched before you are very much older. (1.29)

    That "you" is you. Yep, you. Because we're reading this while we're still pretty young, we are in danger of being squelched by a witch. The fact that we have another young person looking out for us, though, leads to a sense of camaraderie – we feel like we're in good company.

    Although I was very young, I was not prepared to believe everything my grandmother told me. (2.51)

    Young, but not gullible. That's something that we struggle with a lot as kids. Just because we're young, it doesn't mean we're stupid. Our narrator has a healthy dose of cynicism, meaning he doesn't believe everything he hears – but he still has enough wonder to enjoy the excitement of the stories.

    "Would you like a puff of my cigar?" she said.

    "I'm only seven, Grandmamma."

    "I don't care what age you are," she said. "You'll never catch a cold if you smoke cigars." (2.55-56)

    Although we usually like Grandmamma's rules (like not to bathe too often), Shmoop is with the narrator here. It sounds like he was listening when he was told to Just Say No – even to Grandma.

    "No," she said. "I doubt that. One child is as good as any other to those creatures." (4.93)

    To the witches, all children are the same. Even just by looking at the difference between our narrator and Bruno Jenkins, though, we know that's not actually the case.

    She had a key to my door and she kept bursting in at all hours, trying to catch me with the mice out of the cage. (5.53)

    Adults really can be party poopers, can't they?

    At that point, I think I fainted. The whole thing was altogether too much for a small boy to cope with. (6.19)

    Our narrator is very aware that he's still a "small boy." Do you think this is a good awareness for a young person, or does it make him less likely to enjoy his childhood? What other parts of the book make you answer that way?

    <em>What's so wonderful about being a little boy anyway? Why is that necessarily any better than being a mouse? </em>[…] <em>Little boys have to go to school. Mice don't. Mice don't have to pass exams.</em> (13.6)

    What <em>is</em> so wonderful about being a little boy? Our narrator seems pretty content as a mouse, but in all the excitement, he seems to have forgotten that being a boy wasn't all that bad either. What do you think he's forgetting?

    The fact that a tiny little creature like me had caused such a commotion among a bunch of grown-up men gave me a happy feeling. (18.44)

    The narrator is talking here about a mouse versus a bunch of humans. Still, it also reflects the commotion that a kid, like him, is able to cause among the adults in the hotel. He's a "tiny little creature" in mouse form, but, even in his previous form, he was still pretty little compared to everyone around him.

    "No more school!" said Bruno, grinning a broad and asinine mouse-grin. "No more homework! I shall live in the kitchen cupboard and feast on raisins and honey!" (19.19)

    Ah, the things little boys worry about. Down with school and homework! If it had been an adult who was turned into a mouse, how might this statement have been different?

    Only the children in the room were really enjoying it. They all seemed to know instinctively that something good was going on right there in front of them, and they were clapping and cheering and laughing like mad. (20.16)

    Where did all these children come from? Why did Roald Dahl decide to insert this thought at the very end of the book when there had barely been any children throughout the rest of the story?

  • Fear

    For all you know, a witch might be living next door to you right now. (1.24)

    <em>The Witches</em> is written in the second person only for a short portion. When it is, though, our narrator really tries to instill some fear into us. He wants us to be just as afraid as he was, so that we can better understand his story.

    "A witch wouldn't come in through my window in the night, would she?" I asked, quaking a little. (2.71)

    When you're afraid, suddenly the most mundane, day-to-day activities (like sleeping!) seem scary. What other daily activities seem frightening to our narrator as he learns about witches?

    I froze all over. (4.68)

    Fear can really affect us physically, not just mentally.

    Then I panicked. I dropped the hammer and shot up that enormous tree like a monkey. I didn't stop until I was as high as I could possibly go, and there I stayed, quivering with fear. (4.77)

    They say that, when people encounter a dangerous situation, it's either fight or flight. Well, it's very clear that our narrator exhibits the flight end of things here. Does his reaction to fear change throughout the book?

    That face of hers was the most frightful and frightening thing I have ever seen. […] There are times when something is so frightful you become mesmerised by it and can't look away. I was like that now. I was transfixed. I was numbed. I was magnetised by the sheer horror of this woman's features. (7.7-8)

    When we're afraid of something, sometimes the best solution is to expose ourselves to it in order to overcome our fears (unless, of course, you're afraid of man-eating grizzly bears, that is). Our narrator does this naturally, staring at the witch because of how terrible and scary she is.

    "I was living in constant terror that one of the witches in the back row was going to get a whiff of my presence through those special nose-holes of hers." (9.1)

    Do you think our narrator is living in constant terror throughout the entire book? Are there moments when he's not scared when he should be? Or moments when he's scared but shouldn't be?

    I ran, oh how I ran! The sheer terror of it all put wings on my feet! (12.2)

    Again with the flight. Whether it's one witch offering him a snake, or a hoard of witches chasing after him at full speed, it seems we know our narrator's natural tendencies.

    The maid let out a scream that must have been heard by ships far out in the English Channel, and she dropped the shoes and ran like the wind down the corridor. (14.4)

    Most of the fear in <em>The Witches</em> is fear of – yep, you guessed it – witches. Here, though, we see a lady who's afraid of a mouse. That kind of puts everything in perspective, right?

    "Don't go on about it, Grandmamma. You're making me nervous." (17.28)

    Our narrator's grandma keeps reminding him how dangerous his adventure will be. Sometimes the more you talk about something, the more real it becomes – and hence, the scarier it is.

    "Those are just details!" she cried, waving her stick again. "We shall let nothing stand in our way!" (22.59)

    After our narrator and Grandmamma have triumphed over the witches, all of their fear seems to rush away and is replaced by sheer courage and confidence. Once we know we can conquer something, it makes similar somethings seem more doable. Remember your first day of first grade? It was probably pretty scary, right? Once you've done it, though, the rest of your first days seem a little easier. Now you're just a first day pro.