Study Guide

The Witches Awe and Amazement

By Roald Dahl

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?