Transformation in <em>The Witches</em> is a very literal theme. That means that it's not about transforming something inside of you, changing yourself for the better, or any of that. It's about actual physical transformation. The witches like to change little boys and girls into other things: oil painting figures, chickens, slugs, porpoises, stone, and, of course, mice. The thing is, with the physical transformation, there is no emotional or internal transformation of any kind. When our narrator is changed into a mouse, he is still the same boy on the inside. He still thinks and talks like our narrator, and has the same personality. The same is true of Bruno Jenkins, who just cares about eating, whether he's a boy or a mouse. It seems like Roald Dahl is trying to tell us that it doesn't really matter what you look like on the outside, because it's what's on the inside that counts. It's cheesy, but true.
Our narrator's life is way better as a mouse. Think of all the fun he can have!
Roald Dahl should have turned the narrator back into a human at the end of the book. That would have been the right kind of happy ending.
Go count all the exclamation points in The Witches. We dare you. Give up? So did we. There is so much awe and amazement in this book that, in certain chapters, nearly every sentence ends in an exclamation point. The narrator is enthralled by his Grandmamma's stories; the witches are amazed at the amazing-ness that is The Grand High Witch; the narrator is in awe of the beautiful hotel; Grandmamma can't believe how brave her grandson is. And the list goes on. (!)
Reading about all this awe and amazement makes us, as readers, feel even more awe-struck and amazed. If these people, who live in a world where witches exist, are in shock, our reactions are even more extreme. We don't even know what a blabbersnitch is, for crying out loud. Roald Dahl's writing style adds to the sense of awe through its flashy vocabulary and his unbelieving tone. Check out Shmoop's sections on "Writing Style" and "Tone" for more on this.
Despite all the exclamation points, the witches aren't that amazing. They're defeated by a seven-year-old mouse, after all.
Roald Dahl needs to learn a lesson in subtlety. All the amazement and awe just seems over the top.
Usually when we think of lying, we think of <em>words</em> that are untruthful. Of course, there's some of that in <em>The Witches</em>, but the witches themselves are constantly deceiving through another means: disguise. The only way witches are able to pass for humans and trick children is because they are constantly in disguise – wigs, gloves, and sometimes masks – to make them look like normal ladies. They're pretty much telling everyone around them that they're someone they're not. If that's not a lie, what is?
Come on, everyone lies. The witches might be evil in other ways, but we can't blame them for their deception.
Storytelling itself is a form of deception.
Don't judge a book by its cover, right? The Witches sends us mixed messages in this regard. On the one hand, our main character turns into a mouse, but he's still the same great guy he always was and his Grandmamma still loves him. His looks don't matter much. On the other hand, the terrifying, ugly appearance of the witches reflects their terrifying, ugly personalities. Their looks do matter – so much, in fact, that they have to wear disguises to look like normal women. Either way, it's very clear that appearances – how people look – are very important in this book, for better or for worse.
They're pretty cool, but the illustrations in the book make it impossible for us to come up with our own ideas of what the characters look like.
We can't judge the witches' appearance the same way we judge normal women, because they're not even human. Maybe the witches are beautiful for their own species.
When you really think about it, <em>The Witches</em> is a pretty stinkin' violent book. Our narrator is violently grabbed and held down while poisoned with Mouse-Maker. We see a witch get blown into smoke right in front of our eyes (or at least our narrators' eyes). Plus, the witches talk about countless violent ways in which they like to kill children. Here's the thing, though: it still seems to be lighthearted. This is the magic of Roald Dahl. How does he do it? See the sections on "Tone" and "Writing Style" for our thoughts. Unlike in other books, violence in <em>The Witches</em> doesn't make you cringe. Sometimes it even makes you chuckle because of how absurd it is. If you want to really have the point driven home, watch the movie version of the book, and you'll see how much more... violent... the violence is, because it's missing Dahl's lighthearted storytelling techniques.
Violence is violence is violence. Roald Dahl shouldn't have treated it so lightly.
The witches talk a bigger game than they play. They're not as violent in their actions as they are in their words.
In <em>The Witches</em>, we see two examples of a family: our narrator and his grandma, and Bruno Jenkins and his parents. What we learn from this book is that having a mom and a dad, the typical nuclear family, isn't always the best setup. Bruno is pretty much ignored by his parents, as opposed to our narrator, whose grandma is very attentive and always concerned about him. Then, when both boys get turned into mice, Grandmamma is super-understanding, while Mr and Mrs Jenkins kind of go nuts. What defines a family is unconditional love. Loving someone even though they're a mouse is certainly unconditional.
It's great that our narrator loves his grandma, but he really should have some friends his own age. Family can't provide everything.
Grandmamma should have gone to greater lengths to protect her grandson.
We learn right away that witches hate children – and this is hate in its truest form. It's not like "ugh, I hate doing homework" or "don't you hate it when Shmoop takes too long to get to the point?" These witches hate children so much that they have devoted their lives to wiping them out. What's interesting is that we never really get to the bottom of <em>why</em> the witches hate children so much. We know that, to them, kids smell like dog poop, but hey, Shmoop sometimes has bad breath in the morning, and we sure hope no one tries to kill us for it. What distinguishes <em>The Witches</em>, then, in its theme of Hate, is that it seems to be hate without cause.
It's easier to hate a group of people (like the witches do) than one particular person.
The Grand High Witch is more hateful than the rest of the witches.
There's a lot of cunning and cleverness going on in <em>The Witches.</em> Our narrator, Grandmamma, and The Grand High Witch all do their share of clever scheming. Important to remember is that, in this book, cleverness is not attributed to entire groups, but rather to individuals. For instance, it seems like the Grand High Witch does all the scheming, while the other witches just play along. This is true for our narrator and Grandmamma, too. Not all kids or all grandmas are clever, just our dynamic duo. Remember, in order for these clever characters to shine, they need to be juxtaposed with some very un-clever characters, like, say, Mr Stringer or Bruno Jenkins.
Our narrator is the brains behind the operation. He's way more clever than Grandmamma.
Mice are apparently clever little rodents. The narrator seems to come up with much more advanced ideas once he's transformed.
<em>The Witches</em> is written for young people, and it's told from the point-of-view of a young person, so it's not surprising that there's a lot of talk of youth within the story. What's neat about this book, though, is that our protagonist is young, but he's wise beyond his years. For that reason, we get the best of both worlds: observations on youth from a young person (we wouldn't want it any other way) but keen, mature insight into these observations. Most of the characters in <em>The Witches </em>are adults (with some quite elderly adults, at that), but that makes the children, and the theme of youth, stand out even more.
The Narrator would have had a much easier time defeating the witches if those pesky adults didn't get in the way.
Where the stink are all the children in the story? Roald Dahl should have introduced us to more young people instead of making most of the characters adults.
Sometimes children are afraid of things because they can't see them, or because they make funny noises or are really big. Sometimes children are afraid of things because they will come and find you, turn you into a mouse, and try to kill you. That's the kind of afraid we get in <em>The Witches. </em>This is fear of a very real danger. It starts with Grandmamma's stories (fear of the unknown) and becomes a real-life experience (fear of the very, very known). The best part about it, though, is that we get to watch our narrator conquer those fears and face them head on. Spoiler alert: he wins. Narrator – 1, Fear – 0.
The narrator is afraid of witches, but not afraid of dying. Weird.
Fear is all relative. If the chambermaid had known there were witches in the hotel, she wouldn't have been scared of a measly mouse.