”I gazed up at my grandmother who sat there like some ancient queen on her throne.”
This quote is an example of the amazement often found in Dahl’s stories. Many times, characters are blown away by a small detail. Here, the mere sight of his grandmother is enough to strike wonder into Boy’s heart and soul. The idea of amazement is repeated throughout Dahl’s work. There is a comically large peach, and girls with powers of telekinesis. Dahl loved to play with the idea of wonder, and it constantly reappears.
“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 cleverness. I am not, of course, telling you for one second that your teacher actually is a witch. All I am saying is that she might be one. It is most unlikely. But—here comes the big "but"—not impossible.”
This quote shows Dahl’s love of the uncertain. Many of his characters (Matilda, Charlie, James) don’t seem like heroes. But through some combination of events, they fulfill that role. Dahl here means that nothing is truly impossible. There is always some chance, some hope, that an event can occur. He wants his audience to always believe in hope, and that anything can happen. The narrator also speaks directly to the reader (or listener) in this section, engaging the reader in the story and making it clear just how real he intends you to imagine these witches are.
“She sat there majestic in her armchair, filling every inch of it. Not even a mouse could have squeezed in to sit beside her.”
Here, the grandmother's size is emphasized, making the boy and the reader feel safe in such a traumatic time. In addition, the motif of mice is first introduced in this quote, and will follow the boy for the rest of the story.
"It doesn't matter who you are or what you look like, so long as somebody loves you.”
This quote reflects on a major theme in many of Dahl’s works, “a child’s love.” Most of Dahl’s work focuses on extraordinary children, and the things that they eventually can do. At this point in the book, the boy has been changed into a mouse, and must stay that way with his grandmother. His grandmother worries that the boy might be upset that he is a mouse, and Boy responds with the above quote. The boy knows that love is a powerful force, and that it is necessary to feel whole. The boy is implying that self-identity is a less powerful motivator than love, and emphasizing the power of love over all.
"'A mouse-person will almost certainly live for three times as long as an ordinary mouse,' my grandmother said. 'About nine years.'
'Good!' I cried. 'That's great! It's the best news I've ever had!'
'Why do you say that?' she asked, surprised.
'Because I would never want to live longer than you,' I said. 'I couldn't stand being looked after by anybody else.'"
In this important quote, the boy speaks about life and death with a wisdom beyond his years. The quote is surprising for the fact that the boy does not wish to live a long time or even fear death, which one might expect after he witnessed the sudden death of his parents, but wants to die before or alongside his grandmother.
"Heaven shall take my soul, but Norway shall keep my bones."
The grandmother has a fierce allegiance to Norway that she passes on to the boy, though he is born and raised in England. Her allegiance may be inspired by Roald Dahl's own upbringing in Wales by Norwegian parents, which suggests that the boy may parallel the author in other key characteristics. Though the grandmother professes her unwillingness to leave Norway in this quote, she quickly changes her tune when a man tells her that the boy's parents requested in their wills that the boy continue to be educated in England. This shows her devotion to the boy and how, to Dahl, love trumps political or national allegiance.
"I am a mouse! You wait till my father hears about this!"
In this humorous quote, Bruno Jenkins reacts to his being transformed into a mouse in the only way he knows how—by threatening to call upon his parents, who provide him with wealth and security. In parallel to this, Bruno Jenkins's father threatens to call his lawyers (176) when he finally accepts that his son has turned into a mouse. In short: like father, like son.
"A witch is always a woman. I do not wish to speak badly about women. Most women are lovely. But the fact remains that all witches are women. There is no such thing as a male witch."
A crucial detail in The Witches, and especially in its reception around the world, is the fact that witches can only be female. Some critics have called this misogynistic and protested that the book instills and reinforces a negative view of women as cruel and manipulative behind their facades of beauty. Others have held that Dahl is simply passing on the folklore of witches as it was told to him and has many strong female characters in his books that balance out these evil women.
"It was astonishing how the mask transformed her. All of a sudden she became once again a rather pretty young lady."
Masks are an important symbol in The Witches. Most witches have normal faces, though they must cover certain parts of their bodies such as their hands and hairless heads to disguise their true nature. However, The Grand High Witch is so old and so evil that she must wear a mask that transforms her into a beautiful women when she is in front of non-witches. This represents the ways in which people can disguise the evil inside of them with surface-level beauty.
"What's so wonderful about being a little boy anyway? Why is that necessarily any better than being a mouse? I know that mice get hunted and they sometimes get poisoned or caught in traps. But little boys sometimes get killed, too. Little boys can be run over by motor-cars or they can die of some awful illness. Little boys have to go to school. Mice don't. Mice don't have to pass exams. Mice don't have to worry about money. Mice, as far as I can see, have only two enemies, humans and cats...When mice grow up, they don't ever have to go to war and fight against other mice. Mice, I felt pretty certain, all like each other. People don't."
Though the boy is only seven years old, he is quite insightful about human nature and the worth of his own humanity. In this quote, he compares being a human boy to being a mouse and decides that it might be better after all to be a mouse because humans are plagued by the problems of hate and war (and school, though this may be less of Dahl presenting his ideas on humanity and human society and more an attempt to connect with a young audience).
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.