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by Roald Dahl
A little orphan boy, being raised by his cigar-chomping Norwegian grandmother, comes to an English resort hotel for a seaside cure. While he is training his pet mice (William and Mary) to do tricks, he makes the horrifying discovery that all his Grandma’s stories about witches are true. They really do have square, toeless feet, pointy teeth, claws on their fingers, and eyes that glow purple, and they think children smell like dog droppings. This poor, petrified boy (who interestingly remains unnamed throughout the book) only learns that these stories are more than stories when he stumbles on the fact that his hotel is filled with a Witches’ Convention.
Disguised as a women’s society to promote the welfare of children, the witches are actually plotting the destruction of all children in England-using a hilarious yet sinister recipe called the Delayed-Action Mouse Maker. The ingredients for this are even more rib-tickling than George’s Marvelous Medicine. But the results are ghastly! Soon our hero and a fat little boy named Bruno are both turned into mice, which horrifies Bruno’s parents but brings out the best in Grandma. Eluding housekeepers and hotel managers intent on drowning him in a fire-bucket, the little boy-cum-mouse turns the tables on the evil witches once and for all.
This is, without a doubt, one of Dahl’s most irresistible stories, and Grandma is one of his quirkiest heroes. You’ll love the little orphan boy, you’ll be tickled and grossed out by Bruno, and of course the witches are simply priceless. I also recommend the film based on this book, starring Anjelica Huston as the high witch of the world. I still remember the delightful way she seemed to fight down an urge to vomit whenever she pronounced the word “children.” These are not Hogwarts-type witches, but disgusting, creepy-crawly creatures of evil whose undoing is a joy to behold.