Roald Dahl, The Witches, a graphic novel…yes please. Originally published in 1983, Pénélope Bagieu gives Roald Dahl’s ‘The Witches’ a fresh and modern update that will delight readers of graphic novels.
Don’t believe in witches? I strongly advise you to think again. If you know how to spot them then you’d notice that they happily mix among the regular folk going about their day. After his parents die in a car crash, an orphaned eight-year-old finds himself in the care of his eccentric Grandmamma. A Grandmamma who shares stories about wicked witches who hate children and who like nothing more than making them disappear.
On a visit to the seaside, the boy finds himself in a hotel with the very witches he has been told to avoid. And when he learns of the Grand High Witch’s dastardly plan to rid the world of all children, the fate of children everywhere is at stake. It is up to him to prevent ‘Formula 86' being added to sweets and turning all the children into mice…
Retaining all of the dark humour, wit and frights of the original, Bagieu delivers a brilliantly fun read. A brave boy ready to take on the world, a pint-sized sassy grandma with a smoking addiction (that I don’t remember from the original, maybe this is the author’s French influence) and a gaggle of evil witches ensure a raucous fantasy adventure filled with hubble, bubble and a whole lot of trouble.
Whilst staying close to the original story there are notable differences. None of the action takes place in Norway - the sole setting is England, Bruno Jenkins - the poisoned child in the original - has been replaced by a girl, and the boy and his Grandmamma are people of colour (I love this). None of these detract from the story though and even die-hard fans of the original book will find it hard to be infuriated by these changes.
The action unfolds in creative and imaginative panels with many scenes worth lingering over. The revealing of the Grand high Witch’s face is truly frightening as are the panels showing the witches in all their terrifying beauty when they start removing their accessories that make them appear normal. A bloody scene of a potentially decapitated mouse had me gasping for breath (and quietly whispering ‘surely not’) and a hilarious mouse scene involving chef’s underwear are also noteworthy. Pages fizz and pop with colour and it is clear that Bagieu has put a lot of love and thought into creating the illustrations. Non-fiction spreads detailing how to spot a witch and a step-by-step guide for making ‘Formula 86’ are delightful spooky additions.
It is worth saying that Bagieu’s graphic novel is not trying to replace Dahl’s original, it is an alternative read that is a great sibling. I would love to see more graphic novel adaptations of Dahl’s classic books.
Recommended for 7+.