Sheila at Book Journey is devoting her blog this week to the Banned Book, with reviews and giveaways- check it out!
Title: The Witches
Author: Roald Dahl
Source: The school library where I work
Banned/Challenged For: Witchcraft, endorsing an unhealthy view of women
This Roald Dahl classic tells the scary, funny and imaginative tale of a seven-year-old boy who has a run-in with some real-life witches! "In fairy tales witches always wear silly black hats and black cloaks and they ride on broomsticks. But this is not a fairy tale. This is about REAL WITCHES. REAL WITCHES dress in ordinary clothes and look very much like ordinary women. They live in ordinary houses and they work in ordinary jobs. That is why they are so hard to catch." Witches, as our hero learns, hate children. With the help of a friend and his somewhat-magical grandmother, our hero tries to expose the witches before they dispose of him.
I am not sure where to even begin, to be honest. I don't believe in banning books; I was personally raised by parents who allowed me to read what I wanted, and they dealt with my questions accordingly. I understand that some parents do not want their children to read certain books because it offends them or is counter to their own belief system, and that is fine. I have had students return books to me in the library, telling me that their mom or dad does not want them to read the book they had chosen for one reason or another, and I respect that, even understand it. But then they are not running around saying that no one should read the book, that is a different thing altogether.
When I was in elementary school, one of my favorite teachers read this book aloud to us. I loved when it was time to listen to this story, I loved the book. I did not go home and want to practice witchcraft, I did not want to kill mice (I am in fact now a vegetarian and an animal rescuer), I did not believe all women were evil, nor do I believe that people who practice wicca are evil either (I didn't know about this as a child). I enjoyed the story thouroughly for what it was, and if I had any confusion over the subject matter, my parents would have explained it to me. As an adult, I loved the book, and enjoyed it again- I wouldn't say just as much, because while I do love children's books, it certainly is not the same to read them as an adult. My favorite chapter is probably the chapter that is most challenged- the chapter on how to identify a witch. I bet you didn't know they had blue spit and no toes! To me, this is fanciful, imaginative, a fairy tale. I loved it! If you were to describe an evil witch, how would you imagine her?
I am not sure the people who oppose this book for the witchcraft theme have even read it; I feel that if they did, they could relate to the hero and his grandmother, who by the end of the book have concocted a grand scheme to rid the world of witches- this seems like a plan the witchcraft haters could get behind and support. I can see why this would be offensive to those who practice wicca or identify themselves as witches; this book would make them seem like child killers, and that they should be chopped up in a meat grinder (something actually stated in the book, not my own opinion). I can see why this book has been labeled misogynistic, as it states that all witches are women. Always. But then, I thought that was a fact anyway - that "witches" were women and "warlocks" were men. Just semantics at this point. This all kind of hurts my brain. I think anyone can pick apart any book and find something to critique and find offense at, frankly. But I don't think this calls for a book to be taken off shelves or unread- I believe this is up to a parent to decide themselves, for their own child. And if they don't want their child to read it, I think that is a fine personal decision. But it is a personal decision, not a universal one.
I think what I took away from this book the most was the love of family, especially between a child and a grandparent. The hero and his Grandmamma loved each other unconditionally, the way a a family should. To me, that was the most important thing in this book- the boy felt safe, cherished and loved by his grandmother, who took him in after his parents died. And what is more important than feeling safe and loved, especially as a child?