Roald Dahl's books have always been among my favorites. Charlie and the Chocolate factory was the second full length book I ever read, the first being that one about a lion called Aslan. I loved Charlie, getting lost in a giant chocolate factory, drinking from a chocolate river, and taking off in a great glass elevator straight through the roof, and doing it all from beneath the confines of my safe bed covers.
But as I grew older, I didn't read any other Roald Dahl books, not even one. I went the way of historical non-fiction, fantasy, and theology.
It was Christmas of last year when Santa Clause brought the kids a set of Roald Dahl books. You'll often see the same set at Costco. Maybe Santa shops at Costco?
Anyway, I think I was the first to rip open the plastic and give all the books a good thumb through. The first I read among them was Matilda, a lovely story I will save for another post. The second, The BFG, a fascinating tale that Steven Spielberg is bringing to life as a motion picture. And the third? Witches, of course.
Instantly, I was struck by its voice. It opens to a young boy who has lost everything in the world and is being raised by his grandmother. His favorite thing is to sit at her feet and listen to her stories, particularly those about witches and what they're like and how to avoid being caught by one . . . you know, all that horrible stuff.
A sense of nostalgia washed over me as I read it. As a young boy one of my fascinations was to sit down and listen to my grandmother tell her stories about her true adventures in the remote regions of Alaska where she struggled to establish a school district among the Inuits. Hands down, if she was telling stories, I would choose the sound of her hypnotic voice over the thrill of throwing pine cones in the back yard.
That is the beautiful thing about storytelling, whether you're reading it, hearing it, or watching it, its existence allows you to travel to where you've never been. Roald Dahl put it best in his book, Matilda. "She travelled all over the world while sitting in her little room in an English village." I cringe when people say fiction is only a form of escapism. One couldn't be so wrong. As C.S. Lewis said, "myth does not cause us to retreat from reality, but to rediscover it."
So, to give you a peek into this clever book, I inserted a bit of the chapter I've been telling you about, just so you can read for yourself the insatiable voice of Dahl. To set it up, the boy has just moved to Norway to live with his grandmother. Every night she sits in her rocking chair while he kneels at her feet, and she tells him a story while smoking her big cigar.
And so Witches had me in those first few chapters. Sure, it's a bit creepy in a good Halloween sort of way. But its the kind of creepy that kids will eat up and enjoy from the safety of a warm bed or a cushy couch. The story, as adventurous as it might be, with the risks of getting caught by witches and the unfortunate outcomes of being turned into nasty rodents, isn't really about adventures at all. It's about a relationship between a boy and his grandmother, and the evil that threatens to tear that bond apart.
And then there's all the fun stuff to fill the in-between.
You can purchase Witches from a local indie bookseller here, or check it out at your local library.
*We here are doing our best to support indie booksellers. Even though you can often get books cheaper off of Amazon, most independent booksellers are in the business because they’re passionate about books, not about making money, and besides, it's better for the local economy, so we will always be providing the link to indiebound.org, a great resource that links to the indie booksellers in your area.