I'm closing in on my plan to read (or listen to) all of Roald Dahl's writings for children- but then there'll be the desire to read all his adult stuff of course. I do have a rather large boxed collection of that waiting on the shelves. On a recent road trip Master Wicker and I listened to the 3 CD version of The Witches read by Simon Callow. It's part of the fabulous Roald Dahl Audio Books collection that I have in the car at all times. We hadn't listened to one for ages- it seems that there are so many Finnish preselection songs to listen to before I die too.
It should be no surprise to anyone that I think The Witches is marvellous. Our narrator, a young boy is orphaned quite early on in the piece. He goes to Norway to live with his Norwegian grandmother, who likes telling him tales of witches. She was a witchophile in her day, but has now retired. She is 86, wears black lace dresses and has a fondness for "disgusting black cigars". Still she can tell her young grandson how to recognise a witch when he sees one, and of five children who vanished, never to be seen again after an encounter with a witch.
Of course Roald Dahl's witches are not gentle forest folk concocting herbal remedies they are malevolent, nasty pieces of work who have it in for children.
'Which child,' she says to herself all day long, 'exactly which child shall I choose for my next squelching?'
It is masterful that at first glance they may look like ordinary women, but soon the many differences are obvious. Their wigs, gloves and square fronted shoes. Their large nose holes for sniffing out children. Quite easy it would seem as children smell of dog droppings anyway.
Naturally the boy encounters some witches, and the rest of the wonderful Dahl action continues where witches are trying to turn children into mice. We have poor Bruno Jenkins to warn of us about the sin of gluttony.
'He's always suffering mishaps,' Mr Jenkins said. 'He suffers from overeating and then he suffers from wind. You should hear him after supper. He sounds like a brass band! But a good dose of castor oil soon puts him right again. "Where is the little beggar?'
I'd like to say that I loved Simon Callow's narration all the way through like I did for The Twits but honestly the voice he did for the Grand High Witch drove me nuts. And this took up much of disc 2. I did wonder if he was trying to instill a Germanic/Nazi vibe to her. The rest of it though was Callow brilliance. And of course Roald Dahl ensure laugh out loud brilliance. The Witches is a perfect Dahl story.
September 13 was Roald Dahl's birthday. Now it is Roald Dahl Day.