Study Guide

The Witches Lies and Deceit

By Roald Dahl

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?

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