Thursday, August 21, 2008

The Witches, Part 1

Before we get started, I have discovered through an in-depth toothmark analysis and character profiling that the culprit behind the destruction of Ramona Quimby, Age 8, was Chicken (shown here during a brief moment of peace with themarve). Rest assured, he is being punished as we speak.

Now, on to The Witches. No, this is not a Bev. Cleary book, but it is one of the greatest childrens books of all time, and it's one that is often looked over. I figured we could all use a refresher course on what 'terrifying' really means. I mean, R.L. Stine and Christopher Pike were great and all, but Roald Dahl had me shaking in my shoes when I was a child with an overactive imagination.

So we start out with a prologue that tells us that witches are very real and, for the most part, they look just like ordinary women (not that this is anything against women - R.D. makes sure to point out that ghouls and barghests are always male). A witch's greatest pleasure is in squelching children, and they are very creative in how they do it.

The first chapter opens with our hapless hero, who remains nameless throughout the book. We'll call him everyboy. Everyboy is with his grandmama in Norway due to the fact that his parents have just died in a car accident, which is horrible. He is only seven years old. After a brief period of mourning, Everyboy and Grandmama get into a conversation about witches. Grandmama, who is an enormous woman with a missing thumb and a penchant for smoking cigars knows quite a bit about witches, being a retired witchophile, or witch hunter. She explains to Everyboy that witches like to make people disappear and describes five disappearances that she herself witnessed.
1. Ranghild Hansen: disappears while playing with sister on lawn
2. Solveg Christiansen: comes home from school eating an apple. The next day, is part of a large oil painting in foyer. Occassionally moves around painting, but never when anyone is looking. Disappears after about 50 years.
3. Birgit Svenson: turns into a chicken. Her mother makes delicious omelettes with her eggs, which I somehow think is wrong.
4. Harald: Turns into stone. Um, grandmama? That's not witches, that's Hunter's Syndrome, and it's very real and sad. Make that four kids you know who've been squelched.
5. Leif: On summer holiday with family. Dives into lake, comes up a porpoise. That just blew my mind a little bit.

At this point in the story, Grandmama offers Everyboy a hit on her cigar, which she has been enjoying 'as if it were a delicious asparagus.' Everyboy says he doesn't smoke because he's only seven, and Grandmama tells him that if you smoke cigars you'll never catch a cold. Remind me to use this logic on my husband next time I get caught sneaking cigarrettes. Oh, don't judge me. I only smoke when I drink way too much. Besides, I'm a hipster. I listen to Muse and the Julianna Theory. It comes with the territory.

Next chapter is on how to recognize a witch. This is very important, kids, so pay attention.

1. Witches always wear gloves, even when it's hot. This is because, instead of fingernails, they have claws like a cat. I am jealous of this. It would make opening mail and scratching my back much easier and more fulfilling.
2. Witches are bald. It seems like this would make it easy to spot them, but they are smart enough to wear high-quality wigs, unlike this person. Fortunately for the witch-savvy children of the world, these wigs make their heads itch like beejesus, so it is important to always be on the lookout for women wearing gloves who scratch their heads a lot.
3. Witches have ginormous nose holes, the better to smell you with, my dear. Witches can smell out a child standing on the other side of the street in the middle of the night. This brings us to one important step you can take to avoid getting squelched: Don't Take Baths. The cleaner you are, the easier it is for a witch to smell you. To a witch, children smell like dog poo, and the cleaner they are the stronger the smell. I actually tried to use this argument on my mom, but it did not work.
4. They have creepy eyeballs.
5. They don't have any toes. Gross.
6. Their spit is blue. They use it for ink to write letters. OMGWTFBBQ??!! That just really disgusts me. I hope nobody ever sends me a spit letter.

Grandmama also admits that she once ran into a witch as a child. That's how she lost her thumb, but she doesn' t want to talk about it.

The next day, a solicitor comes and tells Grandmama that they've got to go back to England - Everyboy's parents left in their will that they wanted him to be raised there. If I was Grandmama I would be chapissed because she took in their son, holy hell, now she has to leave her home and move across the ocean? No thank you. But Grandmama is a better person than I am so they head on back to the mother country. Before they leave they have a conversation about the differences in English witches and Norweigan witches, and we learn that there are witches in every country, all of whom are overseen by the Grand High Witch Of All The World, whom no one has ever seen. When Everyboy asks why he should believe in her if no one has ever seen her, Grandmama replies that no one has ever seen the devil, but we know he exists. Um, Grandmama? I beg to differ (link NSFL). One lovely English morning while Everyboy is building a treehouse a woman in a hat and gloves approaches and tries to coax him down a tree by showing him a snake and telling him that he can have it if he wants it. Everyboy, being mildly intelligent, books it up to the top of the tree to get away from the woman. That is his first encounter with a witch, and he survives reasonably unscathed.

Grandmama gets pneumonia, which sucks, and so they go to the southern coast of England for the summer holidays. Everyboy thinks it looks pretty dull when they pull up to the hotel and really? There's a beach right out front. That's all I needed to stay entertained for HOURS when I was a kid. In a great example of forshadowing, Everyboy has two white mice named William and Mary and his dream is to run a world-famous mouse circus. Um, good luck with that Everyboy. Unfortch, he can't work on training his ivy league college - I mean, rodents - because the manager of the hotel has threatened to drown them if they are caught out of the cage and the maid keeps bursting into Everyboy's room at random times, hoping to catch him letting the mice out. Um, that seems wildly inappropriate. Maybe we should call Chris Hanson in on this woman. Anyway, Everyboy needs a place to train his mice, so he finds a nice deserted ballroom that says it is reserved for the Royal Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Children. Figuring that they've already had their meeting or, as he is a child, will love him, Everyboy heads on in, sits down behind a screen in the back of the room, and proceeds to teach him mice how to walk a tightrope. Awesome. Unfortch, The RSPCC heads in with the manager of the hotel and Everyboy is trapped.

As soon as the RSPCC gets rid of the manager, they chain and bolt the doors, which is the first sign that something may be off. Then Everyboy notices (he's watching through a crack in the screen) that THEY'RE ALL WEARING GLOVES AND HATS!!!!! ooooooooooh and THEY ALL ARE SCRATCHING THEIR HEADS LIKE THEY HAVE LICE!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!! OMGOMGOMG! HE'S LOCKED IN A ROOM FULL OF WITCHES!!!!!!!!! This part horrified me when I was a kid. I mean, we're talking nightmares, people. As Everyboy is taking all this in (he even faints a little bit) a Russian midget comes up on stage and tells the ladies that they may rrrremooof their hats, wigs, gloves, and shoes. OMG, the illistration for their toesless feet has me nauseous. Everyboy quickly starts counting the days since he's had a bath. Luckily, and disgustingly, he hasn't had one since before he came to the hotel. Um, awesome? Meanwhile, the Russian midget is berating her audience of witches because, while she was having breakfast that morning, she had to watch children playing on the beach. She is quit disappointed, as she had hoped that, since their last meeting, they would have squelched every child in England. One witch murmurs that she doesn't think that's possible, and the Russian midget, who I think we've all guessed by now is the Grand High Witch Of All The World says a few rhyming couplets and then incinerates the poor outspoken witch with her eyes. Oh Dear Sweet Jesus. Remind me not to let my kids read this book until they are, like, 50. Oh, yeah, and the Russian midget takes off her face (yeah, it was a mask) and her face underneath is all rotten and wrinkly and nasty. Ugh.

Anyway, after KILLING A HUMAN BEING WITH HER EYES! the Grand High Witch goes cheerily back to business. She has invented Formula 86 Delayed Action Mouse-Maker, and she wants all the witches to open sweet shops and place a drop of F86DAMM in each sweet. Then they will give the sweets away to children. The F86DAMM has an alarm clock in it which is set to 9 a.m., so at 9 the next morning, while they're in school, all the kids will turn into mice. Then, the teachers will get mousetraps and kill them all. Voila: No more children in England. Um, Grand High Witch Of All The World? I'm seeing a few flaws in the plan.

1. What about diabetic children, or children who don't eat sweets?
2. If all the children turn into mice in front of the childrens' teachers, don't you think the teachers will guess something is going on and not kill them with mousetraps?
3. What if a grown-up eats the sweets? Does he or she turn into a mouse, or is the dosage too small for a full-sized person. Maybe they will just grow a tail?
4. I'm no expert on potion-making, but I would think that an alarm clock would, at the very least, have a crunchy texture and would, therefore, alert whoever ate the sweets to the fact that there was a little something extra in there.

Anyway, unpreturbed by my questions, the GHWOATW (sorry, it's just that all this crap takes too long to type out, and I have work to do) and the lesserwitches do a disturbing little dance-and-chant thing, and the GHWOATW gives the lesserwitches the recipe for mouse-maker. In an uncharcteristic display of kindness, she explains that she's made up a few extra bottles for the witches who are too old to gather some of the more exotic ingredients. These bottles are in her room, and the older lesserwitches are invited to come get them later. Um, can we say plot device? Whatever, I don't care, this book is awesome.

All right, ladies and germs, that's it for part 1. Yeah, that was only half of the book. I told you it was a long one. Check back later in the week for Part 2! See you soon!

11 comments:

colleenn said...

I did like Roald Dahl as a kid, but I never read this one. He was never afraid to skimp on the creepy details though. Toe-less feet sound disgusting (then again feet in general to me are disgusting, so disfigured ones are like disgusting times 10). Someday when you have another Bev-less gap you should review Matilda. :) That was perhaps my favorite Roald Dahl book. But anyway, looking forward to part two!

Fear Street said...

Wow. I don't even know what to say about this one. Crazy. This thing is more freaky than anything R.L. Stine could have come up with.

Fear Street said...

I love the Chicken pic!!

LongWinter said...

I called it! I knew it was Chicken. I looked at the pictures and Chicken was wearing, like, a Hawaiian shirt. That = troublemaker.

I loved Roald Dahl when I was little (Danny the Champion of the World was my favourite, because I'm the sentimental sort), but I didn't read this one. It sounds terrifying. Can't wait to read part 2!

the marve said...

Roald Dahl was an incredible author, but between this book and The Chokey in Matilda, I'm amazed that I ever had a restful night when I was a kid. James and The Giant Peach was another good one.

I'll try to get Matilda next.

Oh, and Chicken is a troublemaker. I had my suspicions about him from the start.

dru-plus-spike said...

The scene where the witches take off their masks and wigs in the movie used to give me nightmares.
R.L. Stine and Christopher Pike had nothing on Roald Dahl and the Scary Stories to Tell in the Dark series (Although Christopher Pike has a special place in my heart, he led me to Stephen King.)

the marve said...

Waitjustacottonpickinminute - there's a movie?! I must see this!

Oh heavens, I won't be able to sleep for weeks.

dru-plus-spike said...

You never saw The Witches movie?!? It's so awesome, it totally messed with my head when I was little. Angelica Houston played the Grand High Witch and was terrifying, and the little boy is so adorkable.

the marve said...

SQUEE!!!

Katie said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Katie said...

Ironically (or rather scarily?) this movie is one of my favorites and I loved reading your recap of the book (which I know is much better than the movie, yet I can't shake Angelica Houston and that cute little boy).

Roald Dahl is rather...gross in this book? I did read the Fear Street ("she fell with a sickening crack") series but as a kid, this is definitely more frightening.

Though I will have to admit, the Harry Potter series, at least starting with book 4, is quite scary.