Marvellous Magic and Hidden Powers

Posted by
Ruth Williams, Archive Assistant at the Roald Dahl Museum
Posted on
12:00pm, 21st December
George, James, Museum, The BFG, The Witches
Roald Dahl archive

We take a peek at some of Roald Dahl's spellbinding stories and characters.

Christmas is the perfect time to discover more about magic in Roald Dahl's books. From catching dreams in The BFG to talking animals in tales such as Fantastic Mr Fox and The Giraffe and the Pelly and Me, magic weaves it's way through many of Dahl's stories.

Our displays in the Museum currently contain archive treasures that reveal some of Roald Dahl's magical ideas and inspiration. When we’re looking for items in the archive to put on show we usually first pick out a variety of pieces that relate to the overall theme. Then we try to determine how they relate to each other and if there is a common thread we can examine. In this case we discovered lots of material on Roald Dahl’s use of magical eyes and hidden powers in his work. 

Magical eyes

Roald Dahl initially used images of eyes cut from magazines and papers as inspiration (you can see some in our current display in Boy gallery - pictured below), but later eyes became a way for his characters to show their magical powers. In Danny, the Champion of the World Danny’s Dad tells him magical stories and has a “golden spark dancing” in his eye and in The Witches it's revealed that “you will see fire and you will see ice dancing right in the very centre” of a witch's eye. Dahl also uses sparks to describe the destructive power that the Grand High Witch unleashes from her eyes.

He also made detailed drawings about the workings of the eye in his initial notes about a child who used their mind to move objects - this story later became Matilda.

Display at the Roald Dahl Museum

Hidden powers

Many of Roald Dahl's characters have special hidden powers. In George's Marvellous Medicine, George's Grandma says that “some of us, have fire on our tongues and sparks in our bellies and wizardry in the tips of our fingers”. Similarly, in The Magic Finger, the girl says that when her powers manifest themselves, “a flash comes out of me […] like something electric”.

Wondrous Witches

As part of the process of searching the archive we also found a lot of references to witches that didn’t make it into his books, many alluding to their magical powers.

In the first draft of James and the Giant Peach, James refers to the little old man who gives him the bag of magic crystals a witch. Aunt Spiker and Aunt Sponge accuse him of lying as they say that witches can only be women. Interestingly in another section, Roald does refer to this character as an old woman, before crossing it through and continuing with him as a man.

In the final version of George’s Marvellous Medicine, Dahl suggests quite strongly that George’s nasty Grandma could be a witch. George calls her a “horrid old witchy woman” and she claims to have magic powers and to know secrets “about dark places where dark things live and squirm…”. 

In an unused song George sings: “A magic medicine it shall be! A marvellous mixture bright! I think that I can guarantee to give the hag a fright”. This song has a much more fairy-tale like feel to it than those in the final book. George sings about “dragon’s wings”, “goblin’s gunge” and “fairy rings”. 

Section of Roald Dahl's manuscript

Ideas about magic and witches may have been percolating in Roald Dahl's imagination for many years before writing The Witches.

Explore more

If you'd like to discover more about Roald Dahl's stories our magical displays and Magic and Dreams themed workshops will be taking place over the Christmas holidays from 27 to 31 December.

We wish you a marvellous magical Christmas, with no hint of curdbloodling witchery!