Friday, October 23, 2020

This is Not a Review of The Witches

It's so difficult as a big boy now to fully toss my brain back to the wee-one place when I was carrying my tattered copy of Roald Dahl's The Witches everywhere with me, sneaking peeks at its cover -- Quentin Blake's iconic Grand Hitch Witch with her arms thrown over her head, all terrifying adult ecstasy -- in between classes, on the walk home. Just that cover gave me a thrill, my mind spiraling off through all the terrifying wonders contained within -- I was hip-attached to that book before Nicolas Roeg's fun film adaptation even came out in 1990; I read the book so many times my copy split right apart, although I still have it to this day. How could I possibly part with it? 

And how could I part with that feeling -- your first favorite book is something awful special. And yet we do, sort of -- we grow up and reaching back to those places becomes fraught with logistical impossibility. There are suitcases and steamer-trunks stuffed with bullshit all piled up in the way, and we stumble down dark corridors slamming our feet into them as we try to recall, remember, who we was when we was when. We're totally different people, adults from those kids, and unlearning what we know of them -- where they were going, where they had been -- is like peeling off layers of skin, cells, down to the bone again. It stings, and bleeds, and stuff.

Which is all to say that watching Robert Zemeckis' new adaptation of The Witches came fraught with more luggage than any movie could hope to manage -- as many bellhops and boisterous chambermaids as it tossed at me I kept piling my travel-things in its way, tripping up myself and my fun. The agony's two-fold -- you're trying to divorce yourself from your memories and expectations, while you're also trying to make of yourself a child, knee-deep in those old things all over again. It's impossible. The movie demands a child's eye but my child's eyes got emotional cataracts, son.

I don't know really how to write about the movie. Not properly. I wasn't watching the movie so much as I was watching for the movie I wanted the movie to be, which is wasn't, but what is? What was? What even could be? Even Roeg's film, as beloved as it is, has never been that thing I remember from my own beforetime. Revisiting the book's the only thing that takes me back there, and "back there" is so complicated and sad that I sometimes can't stand it.

I just don't know that I have room for this book being a movie in my heart. It's so much more than that. It's a sad little boy without any friends sitting on a bench in the lunch-room hearing the other kids laugh at him while he tries desperately to lose himself in the story of another sad little boy. It's the adventure I didn't get to take on those terrible days that sting to recall -- the book would close and I'd go back to hearing my parents screaming at each other, so the book would reopen again, for the fiftieth time.

Those are the things the book makes me remember the most. My loneliness, profound as any spectacular fantasy full of seaside whimsy and lip-puckering turns of phrase, shouldered against it hard as can be, shoulder to shoulder. Unpack one and it all comes unraveled. The Witches was my favorite escape place, where I dragged everything awful along for the ride. Me and Roald killed off my parents and gave me a fun Grandma who gave a damn, and we went on a ridiculous scary ride, for just almost long enough to forget... and then for it all to come flooding back in around the corners. I dog-eared this book to save myself from drowning. And that's all I got.


DCameron said...

This is lovely and heartbreaking.

Anonymous said...

Thank you for sharing this--it has to be one of the most moving things you've ever written, at least on this blog.

Francisco Estrada said...

This was so haunting and evocative to read. Please never stop writing like this. I still think about your review of Never Let Me Go truly one of my favorite of yours.