Study Guide

The Witches in The Witches

By Roald Dahl

The Witches

A Witch-Hunter's Field Guide

It's very important that you are able to identify a witch, if you ever run into one (which you very well may). That's why we're going to include Grandmamma's tips on how to spot a witch:

  1. Witches always wear gloves because they have claws instead of finger nails.
  2. Witches always wear a wig because they're bald. (Grandmamma's advice here: Don't tug on the hair of every lady you see, or you'll cause some trouble.) This wig gives them wig-rash, which makes their heads really itchy.
  3. Witches have big, pink nostrils, which give them a great sense of smell – all the better for sniffing out children. To witches, children smell like dog poop. Yep. And the cleaner they are, the more they stink. Maybe it isn't a good idea to take baths, then.
  4. Their eyes change colors and have fire and ice dancing around inside them.
  5. Witches don't have toes, just square feet. Unfortunately for them, they still have to wear normal lady-shoes, which are usually pretty pointy, so they might limp a little.
  6. They have blue saliva. This is just plain cool, except it means they can never spit.

The Witches of England

Now that we know how to recognize a witch, let's talk about the witches our narrator comes across.

The witches are all kind of less intense versions of the Grand High Witch. They, too, are mean, but just in a less specific way. We learn at the beginning that they are always "plotting and scheming and churning and burning and whizzing and phizzing with murderous bloodthirsty thoughts" (1.7), but we don't really get to see much of this at the annual meeting.

There are a few witches who speak up – one gets smoked, one gets reprimanded, and one is responsible for sniffing out our narrator – but mostly they're followers. They're quite good at repeating everything the Grand High Witch says, and they sure are skilled in the art of flattery. Can you imagine saying to someone, "'Whoopee! […] You are brilliant, O Your Grandness! You are fantabulous!'" (8.16). Try that one out on your teacher and see what kind of reaction you get.

So why do we need all the witches when they don't really have individual personalities? Well, the story wouldn't be quite as exciting if our narrator just turned one witch into a mouse. Eighty-four is much more satisfying.