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Literature / The Witches

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"For all you know, a witch might be living next door to you right now. Or she might be the woman with the bright eyes who sat opposite you on the bus this morning. She might be the lady with the dazzling smile who offered you a sweet from a white paper bag in the street before lunch. She might even — and this will make you jump — she might even be your lovely school-teacher who is reading these words to you at this very moment. Look at that teacher. Perhaps she is smiling at the absurdity of such a suggestion. Don't let that put you off. It could be part of her cleverness. I am not, of course, telling you for one second that your teacher actually is a witch. All I am saying is that she might be one. It is most unlikely. But — and here comes the big "but" — it is not impossible." note 

A 1983 Roald Dahl book, which was made into a 1990 film starring Anjelica Huston, directed by Nicolas Roeg and produced by Jim Henson, the last film he produced; it was also the last screen version of a Dahl work made while the author was alive (the film was released shortly after Henson's death and shortly before Dahl's) and the final theatrical feature made by Lorimar (although the company continued in television for a few more years before being absorbed into Warner Bros.).

The book starts with a introductory chapter on the subject of Witches written in third person (presumably narrated by Dahl himself), but switches to first person for the rest of the story as the tale is taken up by an unnamed boy (called Luke in the film). He tells the story of how, after the death of his parents, he moves in with his Norwegian Grandmother who was once a great Witch hunter; she regales him with tales of Witches and their victims and how to tell the difference between a human woman and a Witch. They then are sent, on Doctor's orders, a British seaside holiday, as his Grandmother is too ill to return to Norway.


It is at a seaside hotel that the boy is trapped at the annual British Witch meeting and meets the hideous (but disguised) Grand High Witch. It is at this meeting he and another boy (Bruno Jenkins) are turned into talking mice by a magic potion. After escaping and returning to his Grandmother they hatch a plan to kill all the Witches in England and the Grand High Witch. With great courage he manages to spike the soup the Witches are eating (having posed as the phony child protection agency the RSPCC, and getting special treatment from the Hotel) with their own mouse potion which leads to them being killed (in the form of mice, obviously) by the Hotel Staff.

Afterwards, the boy and his grandmother find a possible lead to the locations of every known witch, and decide to use this knowledge (and the formula for the mouse potion) to spend the rest of their lives hunting down as many witches as they can.


The endings of the book and the film are drastically different due to Bowdlerisation. This caused Dahl to hate the movie.

The Witches, in a case of Our Monsters Are Different, are a specific species of demon and aren't human at all. They seemingly exist to hate children, and plan to destroy all the children in England in one fell swoop. They don't particularly kill adults... but if one dies anyway? "Vell then too bad for ze grown-up."

They have certain "tells" which a person can use, if they are eagle eyed and perceptive to spy a Witch:

  • All Witches are female. (There are other demonic creatures who are always male, but this book isn't about them.)
  • All Witches are bald, but wear wigs in public, and develop wig rash from the coarse underside of their wigs.
  • All Witches have huge cat-like claws which they hide with gloves.
  • All Witches have squared-off feet without toes; they squeeze their feet into pumps and high heels to conceal this, even though it causes them great discomfort. (In the movie, they eschew this measure and simply wear regular old shoes.)
  • All Witches have blue saliva. If a woman has a faint bluish tint to her teeth, she may be a Witch.
  • All Witches have strange colour-changing pupils. If you get a chance to look at them long enough, you may see fire and ice dance in the center. (In the movie, they simply have a faint purple tinge to their eyes, which can still be spotted if one looks closely enough.)
  • All Witches have very large, fluted nostrils and a highly developed sense of smell in order to sniff out children. Children smell like dog's droppings to them; if you don't wash very often, you can block the smell. This smell fades when you get older — presumably during puberty.

A 2020 remake directed and co-written by Robert Zemeckis is in development with Anne Hathaway as the Grand High Witch.

Provides examples of:

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     Both the Book & Film 
  • Failed a Spot Check: In both the book and the film, Bruno fails to notice he's turned into a mouse until the protagonist points it out to him.
  • Fantasy Gun Control: The Witches don't use guns or knives not because they can't, but because their magical methods can't be tracked by the police.
  • Take That!: The witches' front organization is the fictional Royal Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Children. Dahl was extremely annoyed at foundations that claimed to prevent cruelty to children but effectively did nothing to stop it, namely the National Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Children.
  • Would Hurt a Child: Each witch makes it their personal hobby, to hex a child once every week. The Grand High Witch herself takes it to another level.
  • You Have Failed Me: At every annual meeting of the witches, the Grand High Witch makes a point of subjecting one witch to "getting fried" (being incinerated with eye beams), so that the rest stay on their nonexistent toes. Since we're never told how more witches come about, it's amazing any are left. (The main character himself wonders this.)

     Book Only 

  • Adult Fear:
    • The boy is orphaned at the beginning of the book, and the Quentin Blake illustrations show him hugging his grandmother tightly. He describes being in the car when it crashes, and surviving with only a small cut.
    • Later on Grandma gets ill from pneumonia, and the doctor says that while younger people handle it well, older people are more prone to getting ill. He forbids them from taking a summer trip to Norway because the trip could very well kill her.
    • Take away the magic, and the grandmother is describing Stranger Danger to her young child.
  • Adults Are Useless:
    • Grandma mentions that in Norway it's quite normal for parents to lose their children to witches, and they haven't been able to form a countermeasure against it except to warn their boys and girls to stay away from women with gloves and blue spit.
    • Averted with Grandma herself, whose Chekhov's Lecture keeps her grandson alive, if not human. She also quickly plans with him to stop all the witches in the hotel.
    • Bruno's father doesn't realize that his son goes missing in a hotel and assumes that the old woman that claimed his son was a mouse was playing a prank on him.
    • The Grand High Witch's plan relies on this, that the teachers seeing their students turn into mice immediately wouldn't realize what happened, especially since the kids can still talk. This ends up playing out in the hotel's dining room, when everyone in the hotel is more focused about getting rid of the mice then the fact that nearly a hundred women transformed.
      • This might have been based on a misconception, as the boy and his grandmother both later reflect that the witches' plans seem to have depended on the idea that they would turn the children into real mice, rather than just changing their bodies while leaving their minds intact
  • Alone with the Psycho:
    • The boy freaks out when he's working on a treehouse in his backyard and a witch appears below, attempting to lure him down with a snake. He hides in the tree and stays there until it's dark and his grandmother appears, reassuring him that the witch is gone.
    • It's then taken Up to Eleven when he realizes he's locked in a room with every single witch in England at the Hotel Magnificent, and the only way to evade detection is stay quiet and out of sight (he's hiding behind a screen divider) and hope his lack of washing means they won't smell him. They almost don't detect him, but a witch named Mildred smells him out just as the meeting ends and everyone is leaving.
    • Bruno too late realizes that he's been lured in to serve as living proof that the mouse-making formula works. Even so, it doesn't hit him what happened until the other boy points out that Bruno now has a tail and fur.
  • Ambiguous Syntax: When the Grand High Witch proposes her plan to wipe out all the children in England, one witch exclaims, "We can't possibly wipe out all of them!" Depending on the interpretation of the sentence, she could either be unwilling to kill so many children at once, or just worried that such a plan would be outright impossible. Either way, the Grand High Witch fries her for insubordination.
  • And I Must Scream:
    • In the beginning of the book, when the grandmother is telling Luke stories that she's heard about children abducted by witches, one of the stories is about a girl that appeared in a painting in her home. According to the grandmother, the painting changed constantly, from the girl being in the farmhouse to feeding ducks in the lake. She even grew up in the painting. And it's implied that she also died in the painting. The fact that her position in the painting changed means that the girl was probably conscious throughout her lifetime in it.
    • There's also the boy who was turned to stone. His parents used him as a hat rack.
    • And the three toads at the Grand High Witch's hotel room, implied to be cursed children, too. They are fed to seagulls.
  • And the Adventure Continues: Grandma and the boy conclude that they probably have eight or nine years left, and they also got rid of all the witches in England. Having been a witch-hunter in her prime, Grandma uses a lead from the Hotel Magnificent to get the Grand High Witch's address and contact information. Since the boy remembers the mouse-making formula by heart, they decide to go and get rid of the Grand High Witch's replacement, as well as any witches in the castle, using the formula to turn them into mice and cats to eat them. Then they'll use the information in the castle to track down all the witches in the world and wipe them out, one by one.
  • And Then What?:
    • After the Grand High Witch details her plan and asks if there are questions, a witch asks what happens if a grownup rather than a child eats the cursed chocolate. GHW only says it's too bad for the grownup.
    • While Grandma and the boy discuss how to get rid of the replacement Grand High Witch and her servants, the boy brings up that a mouse-witch would be more dangerous than a regular witch because they could get anywhere. They decide to fill the castle with cats, keeping the boy-mouse out of harm's way, until all the witches are eaten.
  • Angst? What Angst?: In-universe, Grandma claims that in Norway, parents and families are used to witches and thus don't raise a fuss when a child disappears or transforms. It's averted when she finds out her grandson has changed into a mouse, however; after she hides him and Bruno, she sits in a chair and cries for a few minutes.
  • Antagonist Title
  • Asshole Victim: The Grand High Witch frequently 'fries' her minions. Given they're evil, child-killing witches, it's hard to feel sympathy for them.
  • Author Avatar: Possibly the nameless protagonist, given that he shares Dahl's Norwegian ancestry and love for the country (then again, this could just be a classic case of Write Who You Know).
  • Authority Equals Ass Kicking: The Grand High Witch incinerates a witch who dares to question her orders.
  • Author Tract: Dahl hated children's homes that were actually abusive. Hence the witches posing as a children's charity.
  • Bad Boss: The Grand High Witch, she kills so many witches that speak up for the smallest argument, making you wonder why that there are any left (although it is stated that she only 'fries' one witch each meeting to make sure they remember what she is capable of).
    • In contrast to this, she is shown to have some respect for the 'ancient ones' (witches over sixty years old) after their long service to her, providing them with samples of the formula in acknowledgement of how they cannot collect the ingredients for the formula themselves at their age.
  • Bald of Evil: The witches
  • Bald Women: The witches, again.
  • Baleful Polymorph:
    • The main character and Bruno are turned into mice.
    • In the book, the Grandmother tells the boy about a child who a witch turned into a porpoise. He did seem to enjoy his new form and gave his family rides in the water while they were on vacation, but they never saw him again after they went home...
    • The Grandmother also tells stories about children who get turned into fleas, slugs, hot dogs, pheasants, and (in one case) a chicken.
  • Big Bad: The Grand High Witch.
  • Big Eater: Bruno Jenkins, who is described as always eating something. Even as a mouse, he's always more interested in whatever food is present.
  • Bitch in Sheep's Clothing: The Witches typically disguise themselves so that they can trick children into their clutches. The boy at first mistakes them for being part of the Royal Society to Prevent Cruelty to Children and initially hopes they can talk at his school.
  • Bittersweet Ending: Book only. The main protagonist must remain a mouse for the rest of his life, since there is no cure for the Grand High Witch's potion. The protagonist's grandmother predicts that, since he is a magical-enhanced mouse-person, his lifespan may be longer than that of an ordinary mouse—perhaps as long as nine years. However, they are comforted that this means they have roughly the same amount of time to live, meaning that they will never be without each other. They also decide to use their remaining years to get rid of all the witches in the world.
  • Bizarre Witch Biology: Seriously, you'd have to wonder what exactly makes these female... things tick.
  • Black Comedy: One of the stories of the protagonist's grandmother tells him involves a boy who was turned to stone. His parents subsequently use him as an umbrella stand.
  • Body Horror: Bruno's transformation and the Grand High Witch's face in both book and film, arguably worse in the latter, as it seems that both the nose and chin were forcibly shoved in order to get the mask to fit.
  • Bond Villain Stupidity: The Grand High Witch releases Bruno and the hero after she polymorphs him. Justified in that the hotel staff are mortally afraid of mice, and the Grand High Witch assumed the boys-turned-mice would be killed on sight by the first adult they saw.
  • Chekhov's Gun:
    • The boy's obsession with training his mice for the circus. It allows him to navigate the restaurant kitchen and pour potion into the witches' soup when he is changed into a mouse.
    • The bottles of prepared mouse-making formula that the Grand High Witch whipped up for the elderly witches. The boy manages to steal one from her bedroom to put into their soup.
  • Chekhov's Lecture: The stories that Grandma tells the boy about witches, as well as how to identify them, keep him alive if not human by the end of the book.
  • Child Hater:
    • As usual, Roald Dahl applies his favorite trope to the villains. And they're an EXTREME example.
    • And as usual for a Dahl book, the majority of adults come off this way to at least a mild degree (see: the examples of parents who just sort of go "oh well" when the witches do horrible things to their offspring).
  • Complexity Addiction: The Grand High Witch has this problem. She outlines a detailed plan where all the witches of England will resign from their jobs to open sweet shops, and host grand opening galas where each child who attends will receive a chocolate bar infused with potion. The potion itself requires rare ingredients and an alarm clock set to a particular time, ideally to the time when school starts. This plan requires that the teachers would be stupid enough to not see their students turning into mice, especially when the transformed kids will be able to talk, or that the new mice would fall for mouse traps, something the boy lampshades. The boy manages to change her and the other witches into mice by simply emptying a bottle of one of her prepared formulas into soup for all the witches at dinner.
  • Cool Old Lady: The grandmother is an awesome and wise former Witch Hunter who smokes cigars.
  • Cruel and Unusual Death: After one witch exclaims her astonishment at how big the Grand High Witch's plan is, she burns her alive with her eye beams...and threatens to do the same with her other followers.
  • Death by Irony: The Grand High Witch and the British witches, child-haters extraordinaire, meet their end at the hands (paws?) of a child they turned into a mouse by being turned into mice and then being killed by adults.
  • Didn't Think This Through: The Grand High Witch's plan in spades, to get rid of all the children in England. The boy even lampshades this; after he's changed into a mouse, he can still talk and communicate like a human. GHW assumes that the transformed children will be stupid enough to not cry for help or to go to mousetraps for the cheese. In fact, he's able to undo her plan because not only can he still talk to his grandmother, and they form a plan of counterattack, but also because he still is smart enough to avoid mousetraps.
  • Does Not Like Shoes: The witches are a rare evil example — justified because of the shape of their feet.
  • The Dreaded: The Grand High Witch is feared by all. Even the other witches are terrified of her.
  • Eye Beams: The Grand High Witch has this power, which she uses to disintegrate (or, as the witches put it, "fry") people. She makes a point of frying at least one witch during every Annual Meeting, to make sure the others don't slack off.
  • Fainting: The boy quite understandably collapses when he realises he's hidden in a room full of women who would gladly do horrible things to him if they catch him. He's not wrong.
  • Family-Unfriendly Death: That one witch who got "fried" by the Grand High Witch's Eye Beams. Not to mention the witch who gets turned into a mouse and is stepped on by the Grand High Witch herself.
  • Fat Bastard: Bruno is the requisite mean gluttonous child found so often in Dahl's works. He's not nearly as bad as the Witches themselves, but he does seem to enjoy frying ants with magnifying glasses. This aspect of his personality is toned down considerably in the film, thus making what the witches do to him all the more horrifying.
  • Fate Worse than Death: The witches are fond of inflicting these on unsuspecting children.
  • Faux Affably Evil: The witches. Especially in the way they lure and catch children.
  • Feeling Oppressed by Their Existence: The way the witches feel about every kid on the planet.
  • Femme Fatalons: The witches.
  • Final Solution: The Grand High Witch plots the genocide of the children in England.
    • And then, of course, the boy and his grandmother plan the same to the witches themselves. (Pay Evil unto Evil?)
  • Fisheye Lens: The witches, in closeup, when from a child POV.
  • For the Evulz: We don't know much why all the witches want to kill all children outside the fact that they smell like dog droppings.
  • Funetik Aksent: It's not said where the Grand High Witch is from but it is implied she's from Norway. She replaces her Ts with Zs and Ws with Vs. It doesn't in any way resemble a Norwegian accent, which is recognizable by more pronounced Rs and replacing Zs with Ss. Her accent resembles German more than anything else.
  • Hoist By Their Own Petard: The witches are all transformed into mice by the very potion that they hoped to use on children, especially the Grand High Witch
  • Humanoid Abomination: Oh yes.
  • The Hunter Becomes the Hunted: There are Witch hunters in the world, who seek to root out and destroy witches wherever they find them, and Luke's grandmother in her younger years was one of the very best.
  • Infinite Supplies: Grandmamma mentions rumors that the Grand High Witch has a machine that can produce any type of existing currency in the world. It turns out to be true.
  • Invincible Villain: In-universe, the hero's grandmother sees the witches this way, mainly due to their leader. Fortunately, they are not, as the Grand High Witch kills them regularly, which makes one wonder why are any left, and especially when they fall for their scheme
  • Kaleidoscope Eyes: The strange color-changing eyes of the Witches.
  • Karma Houdini: According to the narrator, witches never get caught because they use magic to cover their tracks, so they can get away with killing children in disturbing ways. By the books' end, it looks like they'll all get what's coming to them, via mouse transformation soup.
  • Karmic Death: The Grand High Witch is turned into a mouse and is then killed by the hotel staff, something she intended for all adults to do to their children.
  • Kick the Dog: The incineration scene, which happened because the Grand High Witch took lethal exception to one poor witch's reservations about getting rid of all of the children. Bad Boss indeed.
  • Kid Hero: The young protagonist, who eventually wipes out all the witches in Britain in one fell swoop.
  • Latex Perfection: This is how the Grand High Witch disguises her true form. Justified in that it's rather implied that her mask is magical.
  • Magic Pants: Oddly inverted in the book, as the mouse formula causes the clothes of its victim to disappear early on in the transformation.
  • The Napoleon: In the book the Grand High Witch is described as being shorter than the other witches, even the frail old ones. It's averted in the film, where she comes across as Large and in Charge.
  • Needlework Is for Old People: Exploited. The grandma knits and uses her knitting to lower the boy in his mouse form down to the balcony.
  • Nice Mice: The little boy gets a pair of mice from his grandmother as a present. Basically Foreshadowing events to come.
  • No Name Given: (Book only) Luke and Helga only have names in the movie; in the book the protagonist is nameless and his Grandmother is just Grandma.
  • Noodle Incident: We never learn why Grandma is missing a thumb, though the book implies it involved Witches doing something horribly traumatic to her during her childhood.
  • Nothing Is Scarier:
    • The first story Grandma tells, how a little girl named Ranghild disappeared. As her sister tells their mother, a woman with white gloves took Ranghild by the hand, and no one saw either again.
    • Part in-universe, part meta-example: We never find out why Grandma is missing a thumb, only that it involved a witch: how else would she know so much about witches? Her grandson's speculation includes such lovely possibilities as having it pulled out "like a tooth" or stuck in the spout of a teakettle until it was "steamed away." With this kind of inspiration, the reader's imagination comes up with something far more terrifying than anything that could have been in the story.
    • The fact that the Grand High Witch doesn't reveal her hands and feet in the book, implying she's got even more to hide, and going by her her worm eaten face, it's probably even worse.
  • Obviously Evil: Double subverted with the Grand High Witch. When we initially see her, she has a rather pleasant appearance...then she removes her mask.
  • Offing the Offspring: The suggested fate of Bruno. When the grandmother wonders aloud what happened to Bruno, the narrator theorizes that Bruno's parents didn't want a mouse for a son and had the Hotel Concierge drown him in the fire bucket. This is never confirmed, but his Grandmother sadly admits that he's probably correct and sympathizes for Bruno.
  • Oh, Crap!: When the little boy realizes that he is hidden in the back of a room with every single witch in Britain.
  • One-Gender Race: Witches are all women; Dahl mentions other all-male monster races in the book (ghouls, barghests) but says none of the races are as evil as Witches. However, in The BFG, another race — Giants, all male — make children in particular their victims.
  • Our Demons Are Different: They're described more like succubus, only more hideous, with the casual mention of the all male ghouls race. The fact that they can't detect, let alone reverse the formula of their mouse changing soup proves that they aren't nearly as powerful as the narrator's grandmother makes them out to be
  • Our Monsters Are Different: With the Witches, see above.
  • Parental Abandonment: Luke's parents die by car crash.
  • Phantom Zone Picture: A Witch traps a girl, Solveg, in one. Also counts as a Creepy Changing Painting, as the painting ages when no one is looking.
  • Police are Useless: Notably subverted. When one witch excitedly shouts that she's going to poison the children that buy sweets from her candy store, the Grand High Witch berates her for her stupidity, telling her that it wouldn't take long for the authorities to catch onto them if she did so.
  • Reptiles Are Abhorrent: The first witch the narrator meets tries to give him a snake as a present. He's smart enough not to take it.
  • Riddle for the Ages: The origin of the witches is never explained. Neither are their methods of reproduction, but it can be assumed they are replenishing their numbers somehow since the Grand High Witch fries at least one every meeting.
  • Shapeshifting Excludes Clothing: Thoroughly averted in the book, where the clothes are explicitly said to disappear. After all, piles of clothing might lead to questions...
  • Shout-Out:
    Grandma: "You angel. You're bleeding."
    Luke: "A cook tried to cut off my tail with a carving knife."
  • Smug Snake: The Grand High Witch. She is powerful and rightly feared by her enemies and minions alike, but her plan to kill all the children in England is not a good plan at all (see Didn't Think This Through). Also, considering her supposed talent for potions and such, one would think that she would be careful enough to ensure that said potions wouldn't work on her.
  • Solar-Powered Magnifying Glass: Using a magnifying glass to kill ants is listed as one Bruno's misdeeds.
  • Space Whale Aesop:
    • Witches usually kill children by feeding them potions that slowly give them a Fate Worse than Death. Most examples of witch killings show a kid accepting a gift from a nice old lady. The lesson seems to be "Don't accept stuff from strangers, it might kill you".
    • Witches detect children by scent and dirt and grime covers up the smell. So don't shower or wash because witches will get you.
  • Taken for Granite: It happened to a boy named Harald.
  • Tech Marches On: Grandma claims that witches use their spit like ink and lick old-fashioned pen nibs. When the boy eavesdrops on the witches in the hotel, GHW orders them to get out pencils and paper.
  • Technically a Smile: The "smile" the Grand Witch offers Bruno's father in the film may as well be a growl and a promise of pain.
  • Toilet Humour: The witches hate children because, to them, children smell like dog droppings. This is more heavily emphasized in the book than in the film, with the witches shouting "Poo!" repeatedly during their meeting.
  • Too Smart for Strangers: A number of children the witches dispose of certainly weren't, accepting presents from them or going with them to unknown locations, which led to their demises.
  • Trrrilling Rrrs and Vampire Vords: The Grand High Witch, supposedly a Norwegian-derived accent, but it comes across as remarkably German.
  • Unreliable Expositor: Grandma isn't completely accurate about her witch information; it's justified in that witches are secretive and most of Grandma's information is secondhand, and she's in her eighties with her memory fading. The boy calls her out for saying the five children who disappeared were actually four, since Birgit turned into a chicken and lived with her family for years.
  • Unreliable Narrator: Due to his terror, the boy miscounts the witches as two hundred. When Grandma later counts them at dinner, she says there are eighty-four (with the narrator confirming that it was previously eighty-five).
  • Unsatisfiable Customer: Bruno's father spends most of his screen time complaining about the hotel's amenities and berating the staff. It doesn't help that he's also a scary Scot.
  • Villain Ball: The Witches seem married to this. Between killing off a steadily dwindling species to killing kids in highly unusual and public ways, it's surprising that they're still alive.
  • Villain with Good Publicity: The Grand High Witch of All The World is thought by most humans, to be a kind woman who gives lots of money to charity. In truth, she's anything but.
  • Wicked Witch: For the most part, although they are quite different, as far as witches go.
  • Witch Species: In the book, they're specifically called, a group of all female demons.

     Film Only 
  • Adaptational Alternate Ending: It seems that Luke and Bruno are trapped in mouse form, only to be subverted when Ms. Irvine turns Luke back to a boy. Roald Dahl did not take this well.
  • Adaptational Nice Guy:
    • Bruno Jenkins is most certainly not a nice boy (let alone the narrator's friend) in the book, given in his free time he fries ants with a magnifying glass and boasts about his father, whereas in the film he's pretty friendly and good-natured (albeit pretty dim and greedy at times).
    • Likewise, rather than being a Rich Bitch and a Jerkass, Mr. and Mrs. Jenkins are shocked and willing to believe that their son has been turned into a mouse. At the least Mr. Jenkins doesn't ramble about how Topsy the cat is his wife's favorite pet. However, his father seems more than willing to cheat on his wife with the Grand High Witch.
  • Adaptation Dye-Job: In the book, all the victims of "Formula 86" are described to turn into brown mice, but in the film, when Luke and Bruno are turned into mice, their fur stays their original hair color (blonde and dark brown respectively), probably as a means for the viewer to be able to tell the two apart better. And when the witches become victims of the potion themselves in the climax of the movie, they all turn into mice with black-and-white fur. All of them except the Grand High Witch, who turns into what appears to be a hairless rat.
  • Aerith and Bob: Book vs. movie. In the book, the grandmother's childhood friend was named Solveg, which is not a name used often in English speaking countries. In the movie, the same friend was renamed Erica, which is a much more common name and more familiar to English speakers, while still being Scandinavian.
  • Bad Boss: The Grand High Witch. In the movie, she mistreats Miss Irvine, her assistant, throughout her service. The final straw comes when she refuses to let Irvine attend the RSPCC dinner, causing her to quit. Ironically, this enables Irvine to be the only witch to escape the mouse massacre.
  • Bowdlerise:
    • Apparently, Dahl hated the ending of the film and stood outside cinemas with a megaphone, telling people not to see the movie. He was in his seventies at the time so he must have really hated it. Especially when you consider that he died later the same year, so he was probably ill at the time. He loved that Anjelica Huston was the Grand High Witch, though.
    • The UK version, in order to keep the movie to a PG rating, edited the film to remove two scenes: one that was Nausea Fuel (the Grand High Witch removing her wig and revealing a bloody scalp) and one that was Nightmare Fuel (Bruno writhing around on the ground in pain as he turns into a mouse).
  • Beauty = Goodness:Inverted for the disguises of the witches, which make them look like nice and charming ladies. Played straight with Miss Irvine at the end, who becomes the sole good witch and is shown to suddenly possess perfectly normal looking, human hands when she shows up to turn Luke back into a boy.
  • Canon Foreigner: Miss Irvine, the Grand High Witch's assistant.
  • The Cameo: Michael Palin appears as one of the witches in the conference.
  • Chronic Hero Syndrome: Luke is captured by the witches because he had to save the pram pushed toward a cliff by the Grand High Witch rather than save himself.
  • Composite Character: In the book, Grandmamma tells five stories about different children who were attacked by witches. The movie combines them all into her friend Erica.
  • Cross-Cast Role: Many of the background witches at the 'RSPCC' meeting are played by bald male actors.
  • Cultural Translation: While the movie still takes place in Norway and the United Kingdom, and Luke's grandmother, Helga, is still Norwegian, Luke becomes American. This raises the question: Why did his parents want him brought up in England (in the book, it's implied that the boy is of Anglo-Norwegian descent)? Also at the end of the book, the boy and his grandmother plan to kill off the next Grand High Witch in Norway and use the information at her castle to track down all the Witches in the world. In the movie, Luke gets an address book with the names and addresses of all the Witches in the United States.
  • Darker and Edgier: Even with the tacked-on happy ending, the film is quite brutal and scary, especially for young kids. This is something else Dahl had a problem with, worried that it could seriously screw kids up. The film had explicit Gorn, unlike The Dark Crystal and Labyrinth.
  • Eye Beams: Used by the Grand High Witch in the incineration scene.
  • Family-Unfriendly Death: This happens on-screen to one witch who samples the cress soup doped with Formula 86. After being turned into a mouse, she runs back into the dining room attempting to warn the others... only to promptly get crushed under someone's foot, complete with green vital fluids splattering on the carpet.
    Witch Mouse: Don't touch it! It's in the soup! Don't touch the— (crunch)
  • Faux Affably Evil: Just like in the books, the Witches are amongst the Villain with Good Publicity and Bitch in Sheep's Clothing variety. Not to mentioned, the stylish ruses they use to lure and rid of chidren.
  • Fix Fic: The film could been seen as a controversial example, given that Dahl himself was upset at the writers inserting a character who, at the end found the boys and turned them back from mice to humans, going against the explicit ending of the book.
  • Furry Confusion: Addressed. Child-mice can talk. Real mice cannot, as Luke finds out when he encounters his pet mice as a mouse himself.
  • Hair of Gold, Heart of Gold: Ms. Irvine, who pulls off a Heel–Face Turn, wears a blonde wig.
  • Heel–Face Turn: In the movie, the last surviving witch in England turns good at the end, and reverses (at least) Luke's mouse transformation.
  • Life Saving Misfortune: The Grand High Witch refuses to let Ms Irvine attend dinner with the rest of the witches, but this inadvertently saves her from the fate of the others.
  • Magic Pants: Completely averted in the 1990 film. They even showed Luke naked when he gets turned back to human form.
  • Misplaced Wildlife: Luke meets a witch in England who tries to lure him down from his treehouse with a snake she claims to have found on the path, but it's a corn snake, native to North America. (Of course, it's obvious she's lying, and she's a witch, but it fits the trend of corn snakes being commonly filmed when you need a snake, whether it's the right location or not.)
  • Mistreatment-Induced Betrayal: Ms. Irvine's motivation behind her Heel–Face Turn in the movie.
  • Named by the Adaptation: See No Name Given below. Additionally the Grand High Witch is named Ms. Eva Ernst, though it isn't said if this is her real name or just an alias she uses checking into the hotel.
    • The main character and his grandmother as get names, Luke and Helga, respectively.
  • Nice Job Fixing It, Villain!: If the Grand High Witch hadn't refused to let Ms. Irvine attend the RSPCC dinner, Irvine would have been turned into a mouse along with the other witches and Luke would have remained a mouse forever. As it happens, Irvine is able to find him and restore him to human form.
    • She then proceeded to seal the fate of herself and the others by killing the witch chef who samples the cress soup doped with Formula 86. After being turned into a mouse, the chef runs back into the dining room attempting to warn the others... only to promptly get crushed under The Grand High Witch's foot because she had mistaken her for a child.
  • Nothing Is Scarier: Grandma's tales of children trapped and killed by witches are chilling, despite nothing happening on screen, using the viewer's imagination to supply the terror.
  • Pragmatic Villainy: The Grand High Witch rejects the idea of using more mundane means to kill children, as the police can trace them, and thus prefers using magical means that, which can't be. Hence using a transformation instead of poison.
  • Related in the Adaptation: A minor example; in the original novel, the grandmother was stated to be the mother of the narrator's mother, whereas in the film she tells Luke that she told his father stories when he was Luke's age, all but explicitly stating that she is the father's mother in this version.
  • Shapeshifting Excludes Clothing: In the movie adaptation, when someone is turned into a mouse, they leave their clothes behind. When this happens to Luke, the witches stomp on his clothes in an effort to kill him before he can escape.
  • Technically a Smile: The "smile" the Grand High Witch gives Bruno's father could freeze mercury.
  • Token Heroic Orc: The Grand High Witch's secretary becomes this in the end.
  • Transformation Trauma: Bruno's transformation is downright horrifying and the Grand High Witch turns into a mix of a reptile and rat before completely into a hairless rat-like mouse.
  • What Happened to the Mouse?: Or rather, what happened to the one who might not be a mouse? One of the witches, Elsie, works at the hotel as a maid. She is not seen eating the soup with the other witches. So there might still be a bad witch on the loose in England.
  • What You Are in the Dark: After the climax, Mouse!Luke states that he knows he only has a few more years to live, but to hell with it. He urges Grandmother take him to America to spend his remaining life armed with the witch registry to take out the witches there.
  • Would Hurt a Child: Well, duh. In fact, the Grand High Witch pushes a pram with a child in it down a steep hill. The witches react by feigned shock that sounds more like delighted giggling.


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