“If you have good thoughts, they will shine out of your face like sunbeams and you will always look lovely.”
~Road Dahl “The Twits”
1. A dark story, it is considered one of Dicken’s most “sophisticated works”, though perhaps, one of his least well known.
2. The novel has a vast array of memorable characters which, through his wit and humour; you soon grow attached to.Though the language is less straight forward compared to his earlier novels, don’t be put off. The narrative is very well thought out and incredibly complex with intricate and unexpected plot lines. Compare the layers to an onion…
3. Death, intrigue, mystery, romance – it has everything. You are fooled along with a great number of characters along the twists and turns of a very complex narrative.Very satisfying as characters get their just rewards and no evil deed goes unnoticed, or unpunished. For me, the reading experience has to hold a variety of things, just like my favourite films. Action adventure mixed with fantasy and a bit of romance. It’s great how though Dickens manages to portray the worst of human nature in squalid London and the boundaries of social class- there is a particularly heart warming scene between John Rokesmith and Bella Wilfer that I always find myself going back to and just melts my heart (yup, I’ve bookmarked the pages)
4.Like each of his books, there are some great characters- no matter what shape or form they take, from the devilish and hideous dwarf Quilp in “The Old Curiosity Shop” who delights in playing tricks on others and getting the better of them, to the one legged and villainous Silas Wegg who circulates the pages of “Our Mutual Friend.”
5.However one thing about Dickens most people notice, is that his female characters are often under developed. They either hold supporting roles, as spinsters, the frugal or the vain and frivolous, or proud mothers. Young females are all dignified, elegant, pretty who undergo some tragedy or suffering which make them all the more beautiful and heroic; sought after and admired by men of all ages.
6. The illustrations are wonderfully detailed. They really bring the characters to life and gives that something bit extra to your reading experience.
8.After finishing the book, I thought up a hierarchy of wealth of all of the characters in the novel, taking into consideration their fluctuating social position. This may seem a bit time consuming and superfluous, but the story made me think long after I had closed its pages,(often as I was lying awake at night) and it was my way of sorting through the vast array of characters in the novel. I don’t want to give away spoilers by laying it out in all its glory. So I will let you read it first…
(Follow for more bite sized reviews on “Barnaby Rudge”, “Nicholas Nickleby” and other Charles Dickens novels.)
Luke is a character you easily identify with as a kid, he’s loyal, adventurous, knows the difference between right and wrong, somewhat geeky with a wide eyed innocence. Even if you can’t relate to him, you can understand him as Roald Dahl’s male protagonist.
So what happens in the film? Luke, after the death of his parents moves from Norway to England with his grandmother, who often tells him stories of witches. They go on a trip to Cornwall, with his two pet mice, but things start to take a strange turn. Chasing his escaped mice, William and Mary, he happens to be in a RSPCC board meeting- a room filled with women, but as he soon finds out, witches. They take off their wigs, their gloves, their shoes. He witnesses them turn a small boy into a mouse. He makes an escape, but unfortunately is captured and shares the same fate as his friend. But no, it does not stop there, and being a children’s film, the brave Luke must find a way to destroy all the witches, in the body of a small furry talking mouse.
The term ‘witch’ has all sorts of connotations, they are portrayed as old, crooked with gnarled noses, warts, hump backed and altogether really ugly. The witches in Roald Dahl’s books aren’t that different- they are bald, have square feet and no toes, blue spit, and purple eyes.
They’re not supposed to be nice. They are there to scare children senseless.
The book allows you to use your imagination in its full fledged form, but you can argue whether this fear factor is reduced, translated onto the big screen. Personally I don’t feel this to be true. You have to take into account this is a 1990’s film, using props with no CGI. As a kid, there’s something grossly realistic about seeing a woman peel her face off in front of the audience, showing square feet and purple eyes and gnarled and crooked fingers in all their glory.
For the longest time I believed my dad when he said witches were real and I had this fear and also constant anticipation of catching one in the act of smuggling away a child, or hunting them down, just like Luke does-I was captivated by witches, and wished to be a good witch with magical powers. Much like “Matilda” and her ability to move things with her mind, the stuff of children’s dreams.
So here are some points to consider.
a) The Grand High Witch- the worst of all the witches, is seen to have a pretty mask which covers her true form so as better to fool people with. Moral: Witches are always in disguise, just because they are attractive doesn’t make them more trustworthy. And let’s not forget when the Grand High Witch takes off her mask- it is the stuff of nightmares.
b) Luke is advised not to shower too often by his grandmother, in case the witches sniff him out, and clean children smell just like fresh dogs droppings- so keep a look out for women in the streets who are holding their nose when they pass you!
c) Witches are all women (though, if you look closely in the film, some of them are male, probably due to lack of members to cast)
d) They plan on setting up sweet shops all around England in order to poison children and turn them into mice so they can be squelched.
e) They commit vile and despicable acts of cruelty and show no remorse.
So what does this teach young, impressionable young kids?
“She might even be your lovely school-teacher who is reading these words to you at this very moment. Look carefully 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 cleverness….”
That they go around suspecting everyone is a witch- at least until the effects of the story wear off.
But it does draw attention to trusting strangers and accepting things from them. One memorable part is when Luke is playing in his tree-house, and a witch appears below and tries to entice him down with a bar of chocolate. Now, if Luke had not been wise enough, (and if the woman didn’t have purple eyes), well, we all know what might have happened.
Perhaps another memorable in the story is of a little Norwegian girl named Erica, who after being kidnapped by a witch, appears in her father’s painting. However, not only does she often change position in the painting, feeding the ducks, or standing in the farmyard; but she also grows older. The years go by, until one day- being an old woman, she disappears from the painting altogether.
We assume she has been killed by a witch, but her ‘presence’ in the painting makes it all so eerie and gives you goosebumps. Is it really her in the painting? Her ghostly echo is heard calling ‘Papa’ several times. Who would cause such torment?
All these thoughts spiral in a child’s mind. And the answer to that is witches. They are demonic and punish children for no reason at all.
But don’t worry, because as there are bad witches, there are also good witches that counteract their evil. Phew!
Just as well they aren’t real, right?
Here are some good extracts from Roald Dahl, which can be good discussion points for students in class. What do they teach children? And does this apply to real life?
“If a person has ugly thoughts, it begins to show on the face. And when that person has ugly thoughts every day, every week, every year, the face gets uglier and uglier until you can hardly bear to look at it.
A person who has good thoughts cannot ever be ugly. You can have a wonky nose and a crooked mouth and a double chin and stick-out teeth, but if you have good thoughts it will shine out of your face like sunbeams and you will always look lovely.”- The Twits
“And above all, watch with glittering eyes the whole world around you because the greatest secrets are always hidden in the most unlikely places. Those who don’t believe in magic will never find it.”– Roald Dahl
“I have a passion for teaching kids to become readers, to become comfortable with a book, not daunted. Books shouldn’t be daunting, they should be funny, exciting and wonderful; and learning to be a reader gives a terrific advantage.”– Roald Dahl
“It doesn’t matter who you are or what you look like, so long as somebody loves you.”– The Witches