Study Guide

The Witches Cunning and Cleverness

By Roald Dahl

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?