Roald Dahl is the author of many children’s books and screenplays. Those most popular are Charlie and the Chocolate Factory, Matilda, James and the Giant Peach, BFG, and Fantastic Mr. Fox. Also, last year The Witches book was made into a movie and is my daughter’s favorite Roald Dahl book. So, given Halloween weekend, I thought I would discuss this book. Warning: This post will contain spoilers!
The Witches is a story of a boy and his grandmother and their quest to protect children from witches. Roald Dahl’s books are all fairly dark, and this book is no exception. The boy’s parents are killed, and his grandmother must now raise him. They are forced to move where they do not want to live. Numerous witches approach the boy in an attempt to harm him. They eventually turn him into a mouse, for which there is no cure, and in the end, he learns he only has a few more years to live.
The boy’s attitude and adjustment to all these trials are impressive. He always focused on the positive. After his parents die – he gets to live with his grandmother! When the witches turn him into a mouse – at least he never has to go to school again! When he learns he will die at a very young age, at least he never has to live without his grandmother!
He accepts whatever life has to give him and constantly looks to the positive. St. Paul in Thessalonians advises us to have a similar attitude:
The advice is not an easy concept and one that requires the grace of God. Many situations cause us physical and mental pain, and we are supposed to rejoice and be thankful? This is God’s will!?!? It is essential to note the difference between God’s active will, things that He causes, and His permissive will, things that He permits. God never causes sin, but he allows it for His greater glory. A concept I discussed in: In all things God works for the good.
The rejoicing and acceptance of all things seemed to come easy to the boy in The Witches. But, if this is not easy for you, where can you start?
Reading the lives of the saints or others who have learned to rejoice in terrible circumstances can be very helpful. I recently read the book He Leadeth Me by Father Walter J. Ciszek. Walter was a priest during the 1940s who was accused of being a “Vatican spy” by the Soviets and placed in prison and labor camps for 23 years. He slowly came to terms with the fact that this was God’s permissive will for him – to be a prisoner for decades.
I have underlined several passages from this book that I continue to go back to for contemplative thought. I give them here for you to meditate on when life seems out of your hands:
When I turned to [God] in prayer in the depths of my humiliation, when I ran to Him utterly dejected because I felt useless and despised, the grace I received in return was the light to recognize how large an admixture of self had crept into the picture. . . I was indulging in self-pity. . . This luxury of feeling sorry for myself, to cloud my vision and prevent me from seeing the current situation with the eyes of God? No man, no matter what his situation, is ever without value, is ever useless in God’s eyes. No situation is ever without its worth and purpose in God’s providence. It is a very human temptation to feel frustrated by circumstances, to feel overwhelmed and helpless in the face of the established order. Under the worst imaginable circumstances, a man remains a man with free will and God stands ready to assist him with His grace.
[God] was asking me to forget about my “powerlessness” against the “system” and to look instead to the immediate needs of those around me, this day, in order that I might do everything that it was in my power to do by prayer and example. . . and it could not be done while I sat feeling sorry for myself. I could count on His grace to sustain me.
If we could achieve union with God in prayer, we would then see His will quite clearly and desire nothing but to conform our will to His.
I knew that I must abandon myself entirely to the will of the Father and live from now on in this spirit of self-abandonment to God. . . God’s will was not hidden somewhere “out there” in the situations in which I found myself; the situations themselves were His will for me.
This simple truth, that the sole purpose of man’s life on earth is to do the will of God, contains in it riches and resources enough for a lifetime. Once you have learned to live with it uppermost in mind, to see each day and each day’s activities in its light, it becomes more than a source of eternal salvation; it becomes a source of joy and happiness here on earth. The notion that the human will, when united with the divine will, can play a part in Christ’s work of redeeming all mankind is overpowering. The wonder of God’s grace transforming worthless human actions into efficient means for spreading the kingdom of God here on earth astounds the mind and humbles it to the utmost, yet brings a peace and joy unknown to those who have never experienced it, unexplainable to those who will not believe.
Even in prison a man retains his free will, his freedom of choice. Even in prison, a man can choose to do good or evil, to fight for survival or to despair, to serve God and others or to turn inward and selfish. Free will remains, and so freedom remains . . .