The WitchesBy Roald Dahl; Read by Miranda Richardson
Publisher: Penguin Audio
Publication Date: September 2013
[UNABRIDGED] – 4 hours, 28 minutes
Themes: / children’s fantasy / witches /
This is not a fairy tale. This is about real witches. Grandmamma loves to tell about witches. Real witches are the most dangerous of all living creatures on earth. There’s nothing they hate so much as children, and they work all kinds of terrifying spells to get rid of them. Her grandson listens closely to Grandmamma’s stories – but nothing can prepare him for the day he comes face-to-face with The Grand High Witch herself!
In The Witches, a seven-year-old boy and his grandmother must use their cleverness to stop an evil witch conspiracy. It’s a lovely, funny and nightmarish tale. In the prologue, there is a direct warning to the children reading: witches are all around us but are disguised as kind and normal ladies… and they hate children and want to squelch them.
“For all you know, a witch might be living next door to you right now. … She 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 at the absurdity of such a suggestion. Don’t let that put you off. It could be part of your cleverness.”
It might seem a little mean to scare children like that, but then again it’s no lie that some very cruel people disguise themselves as regular kind people, so maybe this is a theme that should appear in more children’s books.
The whole story is told from the little boy’s perspective, after he is orphaned during a trip to visit his grandmother. The family car skids off the road and crashes into a rocky ravine, killing both of his parents, and next day as they mourn, his grandmother distracts him from the tragedy by telling him all about witches: they’re real, she tells him, and they’re hidden among us, and she knows at least five children who have been taken by them.
An odd way to comfort a recently orphaned boy, but lucky too, considering the witch-encounters lurking in his near future.
The audiobook narration is beautifully performed and complete with subtle sound effects like chirping birds and the crackling of a fireplace. I found the witches’ screechy voices difficult to listen to in one chapter and had to adjust the volume a little now and then, but this wasn’t a problem overall. The grandmother’s voice is especially well narrated: I loved her accent, and her consistently warm and affectionate tone.
The cigar-smoking grandmother was my favourite character. She is not fazed by anything and has a kooky alternative streak when it comes to caring for children. At one point she offers her little grandson a puff of her cigar, and when he reminds her he’s only seven, she says, “I don’t care what age you are. You’ll never catch a cold if you smoke cigars!”
I’ve tried not to give away too much in this review because The Witches is so much fun to discover, and it has some unusual twists and turns. Definitely worth listening to… it’s funny and magical, with haunting little tales hidden within the main story.
Posted by Marissa van Uden