Dahl focuses much of his descriptive energy on physical descriptions of people. Throughout his literary works, especially those for children, this helps to create a vivid, often humorous, and at times terrifying world. In The Witches, this type of imagery is especially important because one's surface features sometimes reinforce one's inner characteristics and sometimes serve to contradict them. For example, the grandmother's large, imposing exterior matches her dominant and protective nature, but The Grand High Witch has a petite figure and a beautiful face that belies her true evil nature.
Turning Into a Mouse
Dahl describes the process of turning into a mouse at three points in the story: when Bruno turns into one, when the boy turns into one, and when the witches turn into a mass of mice writhing around the long table in the dining room. In two of these cases, the boy observes the series of emotions and sensations that people undergo over the 26 seconds of transformation. The most detailed account of transformation, however, stretching the description to over a page, comes when the boy himself experiences this same sequence of physical sensations. This starts with a prick, moving on to the stretching and shrinking of skin, and finishes with the odd sensation of growing fur. Dahl uses vivid and figurative language to express these feelings so that the reader is fully engaged with the fantastical event.
William and Mary's Training
One of the most detailed sections of the story focuses on a rather mundane topic: the boy training the mice William and Mary to walk a tightrope (a piece of string) of greater and greater length. The boy carefully explains how he motivates the mice with food and slightly more difficult challenges, perhaps reveling in the feeling of control he has in this situation compared to the helplessness of life as a recently-orphaned child. This detail also lulls the reader into a sense of comfort and distracted attention; just when the subject of witches seems left behind, the witches appear back in the story as they enter the room and start the build up to the climax of the story.
The Witch's Song
The Grand High Witch sings an elaborate, multi-page song about how the children of England will be changed into mice and the teachers of England will kill them. The song has a fairly simple structure—the rhyme scheme aabbcc... of many children's poems—but the actual content is vivid and terrifying. The song uses onomatopoeia to reinforce the spooky sounds that The Grand High Witch hopes will accompany the children's demise: "Now mouse-trrraps come and every trrrap/Goes snippy-snip and snappy-snap/The mouse-trrraps have a powerful spring/The springs go crack and snap and ping!" (80). For the witches, these details are exciting and motivating for the terrible deeds they will soon commit; for young readers, the details help stimulate the imagination in picturing the story.
The Witches Questions and Answers
The Question and Answer section for The Witches is a great
resource to ask questions, find answers, and discuss the novel.