The Witches: The Graphic Novel by Roald Dahl, illustrated by Pénélope Bagieu, 304 pp, RL 3


The Witches: The Graphic Novel 
by Roald Dahl, illustrated by Pénélope Bagieu
Review Copy from Graphix

Confession: Despite being a reader of many books by Roald Dahl, as a child and adult, I have never read The Witches. Or seen the 1990 movie version starring the stellar Angelica Huston. Which means that, along with no knowledge of this book, I also bring none of the childhood baggage that comes with an adaptation of a beloved classic. I also bring a preexisting appreciation for the work of Bagieu, especially her graphic novel biography anthology, Brazen: Rebel Ladies Who Rocked the World

I read all my Roald Dahl books before Sir Quentin Blake became his official illustrator so I don't immediately associate Blake's style with Dahl's works. That said, I do feel like Dahl's writing is perfectly paired with a loose, frenetic illustration style, especially one that looks a bit like it is from previous decades. Bagieu brings this, and more to her illustrations for The Witches which, based solely on multiple viewings of Mr. Bean and Absolutely Fabulous, have a very 1980s British-y feel to them. And, without giving too much away, her characterization of the Grand High Witch when she reveals her true self is awesome. Bagieu tells the story primarily through panels, using other forms, like pages from a notebook and an instructional manual, along with a color palette that matches the grim tone of the story.

For those of you like me who are new to The Witches, it begins with a young boy and his Grandmamma, his new guardian after the death of both parents. Both the boy and his Grandmamma are shades of brown, something I am sure is a welcome update to the story. Reading other reviews of The Witches, I can also tell you that the boy that the Grand High Witch uses to demonstrate her potion that turns children into mice, is now a girl, another welcome change. And, Grandmamma has both her thumbs, an update that makes me want to read the novel now... Grandmamma, a witch hunter since childhood, fills her grandson in on everything about witches just before they head of for a restorative visit to the seaside in the hopes of remedying Grandmamma's wicked cough. It just so happens that the pair are staying at the very hotel where the Grand High Witch is holding a special meeting, a meeting the boy finds himself trapped in, allowing him to hear her plan to turn all of the disgusting, stinking children into mice with a disgusting, stinking potion to be administered through, what else, candy! How the boy (and the girl, who also gets turned into a mouse) foil the plan, save the day and live their lives as mice play out, true to Dahl's penchant for gross, awful adults and crazy plans to save the day.

While I can't compare Bagieu's version to the original, I'm not sure you need to. It's a treat to see Dahl's tone come through in Bagieu's illustrations and I am sure she will bring many new readers to The Witches.

The Witches & the Grand High Witch
1990 & 2020

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