Chapter 5: Summer Holidays
The boy attends school in England through the spring and into the summer. He and his grandmother plan to return to Norway in the summer and stay in a cabin on the coast, like she and her family used to when she was young. She and her brother used to go out all day in a boat fishing and visiting small islands. However, just three weeks before summer break, the grandmother gets very sick with pneumonia. She must stay in bed and the boy is not allowed to see her because she is too sick. Finally, after about ten days, the boy is allowed in to see his grandmother. His grandmother gets better over the next week but the doctor still stays that she is not strong enough to travel back to Norway for the summer.
The doctor suggests that instead of going to Norway, the boy and his grandmother go to the south coast of England. They book two rooms at the Hotel Magnificent in Bournemouth. Before they leave, the boy's grandma buys him two white mice, which he names William and Mary. He starts to teach them some tricks, such as crawling through his sleeve and up onto his head.
At the hotel, the chambermaid finds one of the mice on their first day. She screams and makes a fuss and the manager tells the boy's grandmother that they can't have mice in the building. She replies that she has seen rats in the building, and gets him to permit the mice to stay, although they must be kept in their cage at all times.
The boy still wants to train his mice, which will require having them out of the cage, so he goes looking for a private, abandoned room in the hotel to practice with them. He wanders around the large building and finally finds a ballroom. The door has a sign on it that reads
THIS ROOM IS RESERVED
THE ROYAL SOCIETY
FOR THE PREVENTION
OF CRUELTY TO CHILDREN" (49)
He decides to train his mice in this room, since there are no people around and since, if they did come in, he thinks that the people from such a society would not be too upset with him. There is a large folding screen in the back of the room which he hides behind in case the Manager came in. The boy gets to work training the mice to walk a tightrope by holding a piece of string at longer and longer distances, luring the mice across it with bits of rock cake.
Suddenly, the boy hears someone enter the ballroom. It is the manager. However, the manager does not stay, but instead welcomes the group of women from the Royal Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Children, who stream in through the double doors.
Chapter 6: The Meeting
The women welcome each other warmly. All of them wear pretty clothes and hats, and as they fill in the seats of the ballroom, the boy notices that one woman is scratching the back of her neck quite a lot. Just when the boy is feeling embarrassed for her, he notices that all of the women are doing the same thing. The boy thinks that maybe they have fleas or nits in their hair. However, when he sees one of the women not only scratching the hair on her neck but actually venturing beneath her hair, he realizes the truth; all of the women are wearing wigs and, he notices suddenly, they are all wearing gloves as well. They are witches.
The boy sits very still, making sure not to make any noise. Looking to the door and thinking of making a quick escape, he sees one of the women fastening a big chain and lock to the door. The boy faints briefly but remains behind the screen. He gets back to his knees and begins to watch the meeting through a crack in the screen.
Chapter 7: Frizzled Like a Fritter
All the women now quiet down and one woman approaches the platform at the front of the room. She is a small, young-looking woman wearing long, fashionable black gloves but no hat. She gets on the stage, faces the crowd, and puts her hands to her face. Slowly, she pulls off the beautiful face which turns out to have been a mask, revealing a horrible, "shrunken and shriveled" face underneath (60). The boy is transfixed on the disgusting face and realizes immediately that this is The Grand High Witch.
The Grand High Witch checks that the door is locked and then tells all the witches to remove their gloves, shoes, and wigs. The Grand High Witch has a strong foreign accent. The boy is scared of being found out by the witches, but they are distracted by The Grand High Witch and the freedom of having taken off their constricting wigs and clothes; in addition, the boy realizes that he likely doesn't smell too strongly because he hasn't bathed in many days.
The Grand High Witch yells at the English witches, telling them that there are still thousands of children roaming England, and many at the hotel. She demands that they kill all the children of England within the year, and when one witch protests, she recites a scary poem, perhaps an incantation, and then burns the offending witch up with a stream of sparks that come out of her eyes.
Chapter 8: Formula 86 Delayed Action Mouse-Maker
Now that she has sufficiently scared the other witches, The Grand High Witch launches into a description of her plan to kill all the children in England. She tells the witches to all go home and quit their jobs and then to buy reputable sweet-shops in each of their towns. The witches are very excited, responding back to The Grand High Witch en masse, until one witch speaks too vehemently by saying that she "will feed them poisoned sweets and poisoned chocs and wipe them all out like weasels" (74). The Grand High Witch scolds the outspoken witch for this, saying that if children eat poisoned sweets the witches will be quickly caught, and that anyway witches work with magic.
The Grand High Witch tells them that they will all hold grand openings at their sweet shops and invite all of the children around. Then, they will put one drop of something called "Formula 86 Delayed Action Mouse-Maker" (76) in each chocolate and sweet in the shop. The children will eat these, feel fine directly after and even at home in the evening and the morning, but at exactly 9 o'clock the next day they will turn into mice. Then, since all the children will be at school, all the teachers will panic and kill them with mouse traps. The audience goes wild at this idea, clapping and stomping their feet along with the strange dance The Grand High Witch has started doing; over this noise, The Grand High Witch starts to scream a long, frightening, rhyming song about children turning into mice and being killed.
As the boy and the grandmother prepare to set off for their summer holiday in southern England, the motif of mice is further developed with the grandmother buying the boy two white mice. The names that he gives these mice are important, as they likely allude to William and Mary of Orange, who reigned over England, Scotland, and Ireland in the late 17th century. Thus, though it has seemed like the boy loves and aspires to live in Norway, these names connect the boy to England.
The fact that the grandmother is the one to give the boy the mice is also quite important to the reader's characterization of the old woman. Like the way she smokes a large cigar, against the orders of the doctor and the norms of her gender, she differs from all other women in the book by not being afraid of mice. It is unclear whether this makes her like a man or a child, but it can certainly be said that she stands alone in the book and is one of the most vivid and iconoclastic characters in Dahl's arsenal, thanks likely to her being based on his mother, whom he respected greatly.
Soon, the reader meets another important female character: The Witches's great villain, The Grand High Witch. While the convention taking place at the hotel is made up of English witches, it is unclear where The Grand High Witch herself is from. Dahl takes great pains to make her sound "foreign," however, and likely means to cast her as Eastern European with her rolled r's, mixed up w's and v's, and switched g's and k's. Dahl uses The Grand High Witch's foreignness to create fear in the readers; we can be seen that this was a purposeful move from the fact that the grandmother, whose native tongue is also not English, speaks without any specific accent markers throughout the book.
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). These details add to the story being told to the witches, making the witches more excited for their terrible deeds to come, and the details also help young readers use their imagination.
Dahl at times seems to include humor more suited for an adult or older child than young child, often in the form of irony. The name the witches of England choose to masquerade behind is one of the most clearly ironic aspects of Dahl's work. While the group's name, "The Royal Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Children," leads the boy and others at the hotel to trust them, they are the last people anyone, especially a child, should trust.