Wednesday, 19 October 2011

"You may rrree-moof your gloves!" - Roald Dahl's "The Witches"

On a recent visit to Cambridge, I found a marvel in a local antiquarian booksellers'. I have always been very fond of Roald Dahl's books and almost had a seizure when I found the American first edition of Roald Dahl's The Witches. With shaky hands I opened the front cover and had to go for a breath of fresh air. This was what greeted me:

Signed by Roald Dahl (author)
and Quentin Blake (illustrator)

The tale revolves around a seven year old boy who, when visiting a seaside hotel which happens to host a witches convention at the same time, discovers a sinister plot to get rid of all children. Wiches look like ordinary women but they wear wigs and gloves to cover their bald heads and claws, hence the quote in the title, and they have no toes. Most importantly, they hate children. Filled with Dahls customary gruesome thrills, the novel is a marvel and it even has the ominous number 86 thrown in everywhere for superstitious nuts.

Whether I am one of them, I could not say. Suffice to tell, I dearly wanted that book, gloriously sporting the signatures of both author and illustrator as it was. However, the price tag was a bit on the steep side and the lady behind the her messy desk would not budge. In fact, budging did not seem to be very high up on the list of popular pastimes for this portly proprietor. As she wanted a whooping £300 for the book, I had to go for another stoll.

Detail from the front cover

They say walking is good for you. Good exercise and beneficial to the heart just about sums it up. Under the circs, I was inclined to applaud the notion as my heart was about to make a formidable leap. I checked the ilab web pages where I discovered a British first edition, signed by Dahl but not by Blake to the exhilarating sum of £1250!

I am not much of a mathematician, but I fear my strained, squeaky voice gave my conclusions away as I feebly tried to negotiate the price. It was, of course, to no avail. However, the woman's sedentary business style had surprisingly ceased to trouble me and it was with a song on my lips I parted with the stated.

Dahl drawn by Blake

Having been on display at my abode for a month now, I will have to turn my attention to redecorating the old den to accomodate its entry into my shelves. I might even take Roald Dahl's advice, sung by the Oompa-Loompas in Charlie and the Chocolate Factory upon the fate of Mike Teavee...

So please, oh please, we beg, we pray
go throw your TV set away,
and in its place you can install
a lovely bookcase on the wall

Sources: Dahl, Roald: The Witches, New York 1983, Dahl, Roald: Charlie and the Chocolate Factory, Roald Dahl by Blake