The Witches

The Witches Summary and Analysis of Chapters 14-17


Chapter 14: Hello, Grandmamma

The boy and Bruno run down the hall and up the stairs to the fifth floor without seeing anyone. Just as they get outside of the boy's grandmother's room, the boy sees the chambermaid coming down the hall. He sees that his grandmother has left a pair of shoes outside the door, and the two boys-as-mice crawl inside them to hide. They hope that the chambermaid will just walk by, but she picks up the shoes. When she puts her hand inside, the boy bites her hand, and she screams incredibly loudly and runs off down the hall. The boy's grandmother opens the door and the two mice dart in the door.

He tells his grandmother to close the door and she is frozen with shock at hearing his voice. She trembles and the boy fears that she will faint, but he persuades her to close the door and calm down. She puts the boy and Bruno on the table and Bruno immediately climbs into a bowl of bananas and starts to eat. He tells her all about the witches' meeting and that he's not upset to be a mouse. When the boy tells her about the witches' plot to kill all of the children in England, he implores her, "we've got to stop them" (123) and his grandmother is terrified by this proposition. He asks her about how he and Bruno can still talk the same way they could before and she suggests that they are more like mouse-people than 100% mice.

Suddenly, the boy has an idea. The Grand High Witch's room is 454, which he thinks must be directly beneath his room, which is room 554. Since all of the rooms have a small balcony attached, he and his grandmother discuss whether he could get down to her balcony and through the open door into her room. Then, he would be able to steal a bottle of Delayed Action Mouse-Maker and give all the witches at the hotel a dose. They go down to the 4th floor and then back up to the 5th floor to check that his room is indeed above hers. Now they must devise a way to get the boy down to the balcony below. The grandmother has the idea to put him in a sock she had been knitting and lower him down by holding on to the ball of yard.

Chapter 15: The Mouse-Burglar

The boy's grandmother lowers him down in the sock and soon he bumps against the balcony below. He hurries into the bedroom and can smell that it is the right room. The room looks normal except for a frog hopping around the floor. The boy looks around for bottles, but it's difficult to investigate since he can't open any drawers or doors. However, he thinks that she might have hidden the bottles under her mattress and, burrowing beneath it, realizes that she had actually slit the mattress open and stuffed the bottles inside. He tears at the cloth with his sharp teeth and grabs one of the bottles, pulling it along as he backs out from under the mattress. He drops it down onto the floor and it doesn't break. Down on the floor, he now sees three frogs , staring sadly at him with huge eyes, and he realizes that they are likely other children from the hotel.

Just when he asks the frogs who they are, he hears The Grand High Witch unlocking the door. He runs under the bed and squeezes against the wall, while the frogs hop around in fear and then cluster together under the bed. The Grand High Witch looks under the bed at the frogs, but she doesn't see the mouse-boy. Just at this moment, the boy's grandmother calls, "Hurry up, my darling...Do hurry up! You'd better come out quickly!" (135). The Grand High Witch snaps back at her, asking why her knitting wool is hanging down onto her balcony and who she was calling to. The grandmother thinks quickly and says that she was talking to her grandson who has been in the bathroom too long reading. The Grand High Witch accepts this in a huff and slams the balcony doors, trapping the boy in the room with her again.

There are knocks on the door and the ancient ones call that they are here for their bottles of the formula. As The Grand High Witch opens the door to let them in, the boy scampers out without them seeing him, bottle clutched to his chest. He runs up the stairs and to his grandmother's door, tapping the bottle against the door to be let in. When she doesn't hear him, he takes a risk and yells for her. She lets him in and they hug excitedly and discuss how foul and yet beautiful The Grand High Witch is.

Chapter 16: Mr. and Mrs. Jenkins Meet Bruno

The boy has informed his grandmother that the witches will be going for dinner at 8pm. It is now 6:10, so they have just under two hours to make and execute their plan. The grandmother suggests that they should pause and inform Bruno's parents of what is going on. Bruno has been sitting contentedly in the bowl of fruit the entire time, and he had already eaten more than three whole bananas.

The grandmother puts both mice in her handbag and heads to the Lounge to find Mr. and Mrs. Jenkins. She finds them sitting where they usually do, reading the newspaper and knitting. Approaching them sweetly, she tells them she has "some rather alarming news" (142). She asks if they can go somewhere more private, but Mr. and Mrs. Jenkins refuse and start to get upset with her, demanding that she tell them what she's talking about and then leave them alone. When she tells them that their child is a mouse, they get even more mad and call her crazy, threatening to call the manager. The grandmother takes out Bruno and puts him on the table, causing his mother to scream. Mr. Jenkins tries to push the mouse off the table, so the grandmother scoops him back into her purse and they head back upstairs.

Chapter 17: The Plan

Back in the grandmother's room and with only an hour and a half until dinner, the boy and his grandmother make a plan to give the witches a taste of their own medicine. Because he is a mouse, he is able to sneak into places where humans can't as long as he is careful, so they plan that the grandmother will take him to the dining room in her bag and then he will scamper into the kitchen, find the food that is being prepared for all the witches, and somehow mix the formula in with the food. They know it will be dangerous, but it is their best shot. The boy practices getting the top off of the formula bottle and they wait for dinner time.


The grandmother's reaction to the boy's transformation in the chapter "Hello, Grandmamma" is perhaps surprising, because she has professed to be a witchophile and to have known many children who disappeared or were changed into animals in her childhood. However, her surprise and terror demonstrates how much she cares about the boy, who is her responsibility after the death of both of his parents. This fact, which was first demonstrated strongly by her willingness to move from Norway to England, means it takes her quite a while to get her bearings while the boy is already trying to plan ahead to defeat the witches. She lets him take the lead in planning, almost as if their roles as adult and child are reversed, and soon they are working together beautifully to come up with the plan to lower the boy down from his room's balcony.

The title of the chapter "The Mouse-Burglar" builds suspense because it can be taken in two ways. The true sense, the reader comes to find by the end of the chapter, is that the boy, as a mouse, acts as a burglar by successfully stealing a bottle of the formula from The Grand High Witch. However, the chapter title also suggests an alternate reading, one which generates suspense for the reader—perhaps the mouse himself will stolen by someone else, like The Grand High Witch or a staff member at the hotel (who would then be called a mouse burglar).

Family is a very important theme in The Witches, especially parents. The boy's parents die early in the story and the grandmother must take on the role of both parents and put their interests for their child above her own by agreeing to move to England. Though the reader does not get much information about the boy's parents, the boy's relationship with the grandmother is contrasted with Bruno Jenkins's relationship with his parents. The Jenkins parents adhere strictly to gender norms and their lives seem ruled by money and propriety. They do not believe the grandmother when she tells them what happened to Bruno, and they refuse to recognize their child even after he is directly shown to them in mouse form. Dahl is generally quite critical of adults throughout his literary works for children, and through his portrayal of this family he reveals something negative he has seen in English society.

The idea of external appearance masking a different internal character returns to the forefront in the discussion between the grandmother and the boy about his being a mouse-person. This theme was first touched upon in a negative sense: witches look like women, especially through the use of practical and symbolic objects including gloves, wigs, and masks. All of these things help them disguise their evil, non-human interior, making them look like harmless women. However, the theme is now brought back in a positive sense when the grandmother and the boy discuss how nice it is that he can be a human on the inside, still able to talk and think as he used to, and simply have a misleading, mouse-like exterior.

An interesting detail in this section is the fact that not only do children smell bad to witches (supposedly like fresh dogs' droppings), but witches also smell bad to children. Upon entering the room of The Grand High Witch, the narrator says, "There was the same musty smell about the place that I had noticed in the Ballroom. It was the stench of witches. It reminded me of the smell inside the men's public lavatory at our local railway-station" (130). While Dahl introduces a comedic effect by referring to the universally recognizable, unpleasant smells of bathrooms, he also suggests that children can potentially sense witches in a way that parallels how witches sensing children. And, just as witches not being annoyed by the smell of adults, it may be assumed that adults would not notice as much the stench of witches: there is a special relationship between witches and children that is linked to smell, perhaps the most vivid of the senses.