Chapter 9: The Recipe
The boy reminds the reader that he was still behind the folding screen this whole time, and that it was very lucky that he hadn’t washed in days and that the witches were so distracted. Then, just as The Grand High Witch prepares to tell the other witches how to make Formula 86 Delayed Action Mouse-Maker, there are screams of shock and appreciation from the audience as some of the women glimpse two small mice running across the room. It is the boy’s mice, William and Mary! The Grand High Witch recognizes that these are real mice, not children transformed into mice, and she kicks both William and Mary off the platform and against the wall.
With the mice dealt with, The Grand High Witch returns to the recipe. The recipe requires a witch to boil the wrong end of a telescope until it gets soft (to make the child small), to fry the tails of 45 brown mice, to simmer the mice in frog-juice for an hour, and to set a 24-hour alarm clock for 9am and then roast it until crisp and tender. Then, one needs to blend all of the ingredients in a mixer, add the yolk of a gruntle’s egg, the claw of a crabcruncher, the beak of a blabbersnitch, the snout of a grobblesquirt, and the tongue of a catspringer. After cooking all of these things together, the mixture will become a green liquid. One drop of this will turn children into a mouse the next day at 9am, though an overdose could turn the child into a mouse instantly, which The Grand High Witch warns against since it could lead to the witch being caught.
Chapter 10: Bruno Jenkins Disappears
The Grand High Witch reveals that she has set up a demonstration of Formula 86 Delayed Action Mouse-Maker. The day before, she gave a chocolate bar with one drop of the formula in it to a boy named Bruno Jenkins (using an alarm clock set at half past three). She promised him six more candy bars if he showed up at the ballroom the next day at 25 minutes past three. As she planned, the witches now hear the boy pounding on the door and demanding his sweets. The witches hurry to put their wigs, gloves, and shoes back on, and The Grand High Witch puts her mask back on, becoming once again a very pretty young woman.
When one of the witches takes the chains off the door and opens it, the boy recognizes Bruno as another boy he has seen around the hotel. Bruno, the boy tells the reader, is someone who is always eating and who the boy didn’t care for much because he always boasted about his father’s money and was cruel to animals. The Grand High Witch summons Bruno to the stage and keeps him standing there as the last minute passes. At exactly 3:30, Bruno jumps and yells, “Ow!”(p.97) He starts to hop around, yelling and waving his arms, and then his whole body stiffens and he becomes silent.
The Grand High Witch sings out a short, rhyming poem as Bruno starts to shrink and grow fur and a tail. In just a few seconds, he is transformed into a small brown mouse. The audience cheers and the boy feels upset, thinking that he hadn’t liked Bruno but he didn’t want him to turn into a mouse and be killed. However, Bruno runs off the table, off the platform, and somewhere into the room where the witches can’t find him.
Chapter 11: The Ancient Ones
The Grand High Witch makes a special announcement before ending the presentation: the witches who are very old, whom she calls “the ancient ones” (100), will not have to go all over catching rare animals to make the formula. Instead, she has made special bottles of Formula 86 Delayed Action Mouse-Maker, put them in small bottles of 500 doses, and has them upstairs in her room to dole out that evening. She shows a small example bottle to the audience and tells them her room number, 454. She tells the witches that they must now go have tea on the Sunshine Terrace with the Manager and then will reconvene at 8 in the Dining Room for dinner.
It seems as if the little boy has made it through the entire meeting unscathed when, as the women gather their things to go, one suddenly yells out that she smells dogs’ droppings. The witches all start to sniff the air and they smell it too. The Grand High Witch yells for them to find the child, assessing correctly that any child hiding in the room would be in on all of the witches’ secret plans.
Chapter 12: Metamorphosis
The boy seeks an escape, but the door is still chained shut and there is nowhere to run. The witches find him and catch him. He runs away but only makes it to the chained door, which he cannot open. They grab him again, bring him to The Grand High Witch, and hold him aloft by his arms and legs. The Grand High Witch decides to give him some of the formula and pinches his nose until he must open his mouth. Though he holds his breath as long as possible, the boy finally opens his mouth to gasp for breath and The Grand High Witch pours the entirety of the small bottle down his throat.
The boy screams, feeling a burning spread from his chest to his stomach to his arms and legs. His skin begins to tighten and he feels himself start to shrink as though he is a balloon that someone is twisting. Then there is a squeezing and a prickling that he realizes is the feeling of growing fur. Then, as quickly as it began, the boy is a mouse; he sees his own paws and the floor just an inch away from his face. The Grand High Witch holds up a mouse trap and cheese, but the boy runs off into the room swiftly and quietly. The Grand High Witch shouts for the witches to leave him for someone else to catch and the witches unlock the doors and go off to have tea.
The boy (as a mouse) stays silent until all the witches have gone. Then, he calls out for Bruno; he is surprised to hear that his voice sounds exactly the same as when he was a boy. He thinks to himself that it is not so bad being a mouse, especially because many of the bad things about being a human such as exams and wars don’t happen to mice. He wanders around the floor until he finds Bruno in the audience eating a piece of bread.
The boy tries to make a plan with Bruno, who is surprised to realize that he is a mouse; he had been so focused on food that he hadn’t even noticed his transformation. Bruno is quite upset at the thought of being a mouse, since he thinks it will prevent him from eating leftovers from his fridge at night. He also thinks that his parents won’t like him being a mouse. The boy promises that his grandmother will understand what happened to them and makes a plan for them to get up to his grandmother’s room to work things out further. He tells Bruno that they will go out into the corridor and run close to the wall all the way to his grandmother’s room; they will just have to hope that nobody sees them.
One question a reader might ask is why Dahl chose to make Bruno Jenkins, the first child the witches turn into a mouse, such a negative character. Bruno is depicted as constantly eating, and the reader also learns that he is a rich and spoiled child. Dahl often pairs greed and gluttony in his depictions of bad children (such as Veruca Salt and Violet Bauregarde in Dahl’s classic Charlie and the Chocolate Factory). Dahl may have done this to further set the narrator of the story away from other children, making him special in his likability, or simply for comic relief.
Dahl describes the process of turning into a mouse at three points in the story (twice in this section): when Bruno turns into one, when the boy turns into one, and, later, when the witches themselves turn into a mass of mice writhing around the long table in the Dining Room. In two of these cases, the boy witnesses a series of emotions and sensations occurring in others over the 26 seconds of transformation. The most detailed account of transformation, however, stretching the description to over a page, comes when the boy experiences this same sequence of feelings. This starts with a prick, moving on to the stretching and shrinking of skin, and finishes with the odd sensation of growing fur. Dahl uses vivid and figurative language to express these feelings so that the reader is fully engaged by the fantastical event.
In the chapter title “Metamorphosis,” Dahl makes a high-level allusion geared mostly toward adults. “The Metamorphosis” is a famous novella written by Franz Kafka in 1915 in which a man turns into a giant cockroach, causing problems with his job and his family. Were Dahl not making a reference to this work, he likely would not choose such a long and high-level vocabulary word for the chapter title, so it can be assumed that the author desired the reader to make connections between the works. By juxtaposing the works, Dahl calls attention to how calm and even happy the boy is with his transformation. In comparison to Gregor Samsa of “The Metamorphosis,” who struggles against his transformation and eventually dies a gruesome death, the boy contemplates how life might be better as a mouse than as a human.
This deep thinking that the boy does regarding life as a mouse or a human is surprising and even ironic in itself. A reader might initially assume that the boy will be upset by being turned into a mouse; this was certainly The Grand High Witch’s intent, at the very least. However, when the boy thinks it over further, he realizes that mice don’t have to deal with many of the negative things that characterize life as a human, such as school and war. Ironically, then, he is quite happy with his situation. This seemingly mature thinking returns at the end of the novel when the boy confesses that he is happy to have a shortened life span so that he won’t have to live without his grandmother.
Bruno’s response to becoming a mouse, especially in contrast to the narrator’s, is quite humorous and ironic as well. When the boy finally gets Bruno to stop eating and look at himself, the spoiled child remarks, “I am a mouse! You wait till my father hears about this!” (114). Bruno Jenkins lashes out against his new state as a mouse in the only way he knows how—by threatening to call upon his parents, who provide him with wealth and security. In parallel to this, Bruno Jenkins’s father threatens to call his lawyers when he finally accepts that his son has turned into a mouse (176). In short: like father, like son.