Today on my top reads of 2020 we have a charming classic from the well-known master of children’s fiction Roald Dahl. It’s quite frankly almost criminal that I managed to get this far in life without reading Dahl’s masterpiece The Witches and yet here we are. To be fair to myself, sometimes classics have a way of slipping through the cracks in our young reading, but in the words of C.S. Lewis, “A children's story that can only be enjoyed by children is not a good children's story in the slightest.”. So that being said, Roald Dahl’s delightful book entertained just as well in adulthood as it would have in my childhood.
What’s the Book?
The story follows a young boy who, after the tragic loss of his parents, goes to live with his hardy but sweet grandmother. Unlike most grandmothers, our young hero’s guardian is extremely wary of witches and the ever-present threat they pose to young children. The two move from her Norweigian homeland to England per the boy’s parents’ will, a country the grandmother fears for how vicious the witches are there. She rigorously trains her grandson in the ways of spotting and avoiding witches and fears that the threat will become too great for her to protect him.
Sometime later, the grandmother encounters a health scare and is advised to take a more local vacation than their planned return to Norway. The two take a trip to a seaside hotel for the grandmother’s health, but it quickly becomes clear that all is not as it seems. Our young hero soon discovers that the most fearsome band of witches is sniffing out children right there alongside the vacationers. When he abruptly stumbles across their path, his life is set abruptly turned on a surprising and exciting course that could spell disaster or victory for not just the other children in the hotel, but across the whole country.
Why It’s a Top Ten
From the perspective of the narrative, the story is timeless in its forward approach to adventure and adversity. Our young hero is very easily applied to one’s self, and any young reader can see themself in his eager nature to set things to right and his genuine fears that he may not be up to the task. Similarly, the grandmother delights as that ultimate mentor and guardian that we all crave and need in our lives. She is no-nonsense and firm, but equally loving and caring. Between these two main characters and their relationship with each other, there’s more than enough to resonate with and delight in within the pages of this book.
However, the strength of The Witches goes far beyond the quality of the story and has a great deal to do with Dahl’s writing style and literary integrity. As an author, Roald Dahl has a seemingly effortless mastery over the art of trusting his readers. Many a great story in childhood has failed the transition to enjoyment in adulthood due to its simplicity and tendency to talk down to its readers. Dahl passes that distinction with flying colors. In my opinion, the best works of children’s fiction are the ones that can grow up with you. This is an area where Dahl showcases a charming authority.
Yes, Dahl writes to a juvenile audience, but he does so with a sense of camaraderie. There’s an equality to his work that spans across a variety of ages and gives the sense the Dahl is happy to have you there, reading his work. His readers are not a waste of time or space and that attitude shines out in the lasting quality of his work. A twenty-seven-year-old can enjoy his work just as easily and completely as a seven-year-old can.
Many authors can write children’s fiction, but titans like Dahl can write classics. The Witches is a delightful read with a great deal of heart and fun, making it a true gem and a lasting, enjoyable read.
Let’s find some joy,