- “Better is no good either! I demand maximum results!”
- ―The Grand High Witch
The Grand High Witch is the main antagonist of Roald Dahl's 1983 book The Witches, and its 1990 film adaptation. As the leader of the Witches, she seeks to eliminate all the children on Earth because she considers them disgusting vermin.
The Grand High Witch is extremely disturbing for a villain appearing in a book for children, and is scarier than most villains appearing in stories for adults; she wears a mask to hide her hideous true face. Bluntly put, she is a child-murderer and a genocidal psychopath.
One of her favorite ways to dispose of children was to turn them into animals their parents hated, and have the parents kill their own children, thinking they are pests. She relies mostly on fear to maintain control over the other witches, killing any of them that dare to contradict her. Her meetings usually involve her killing any disobedient witch, and she possibly deliberately kills a witch yearly, to keep the others on their toes. She also cares little for human adults, and doesn't mind if she accidentally kills them. Being a witch, she is a separate species to humans, and is motivated to hate kids as her well-developed nose makes them smell like dog feces to her.
As one of the most influential and powerful sorceresses on Earth, she leads a secret society of like-minded witches in their never-ending quest to kill and torture children.
In the past, the Grand High Witch faced off against Helga Evesheim (Luke's grandmother) during the latter's quest to find out more about witches, and even considered her an "old adversary" upon their chance meeting at the hotel in England.
During each and every single meeting she ever attends, she murders one of her own followers simply to keep the other witches focused. This is considered to be her ultimate punishment, and the other witches are terrified of her.
The Grand High Witch concocts a plan to turn all the children of England into mice, to be disposed of either by the witches themselves, or by their unsuspecting parents. She demonstrates her formula by inviting a boy called Bruno, who had been previously given a chocolate with the formula, as he slowly turns into a mouse. However, the meeting is being eavesdropped by Luke, a boy who is in the hotel with his grandmother Helga, who warned him about witches and is implied to have faced the Grand High Witch before.
One of the witches catches the scent of Luke, so the Grand High Witch tracks him down and force-feeds him her formula, turning him into a mouse as well. He manages to escape and meet with Bruno, the two going after Helga's room, where they plan to stop the witches plan. Luke manages to steal the formula and slip it on the witches soup. In the end, the Grand High Witch suffers a somewhat fitting demise when her own magic was used against her and she (along with all of her followers, except Susan Irvine whom she banned in the celebration) is transformed into a mouse. While the mice-transformed witches run rampant around the hotel and are killed by the staff, the Grand High Witch is killed by the hotel manager, who uses a cleaver to slice her in half.
The Witches (1990)
Luke inadvertently discovers the witches while playing with his pet mice inside the ballroom, where the witches hold their meeting. The Grand High Witch unveils her latest weapon: a formula to turn children into mice, which they will use on confectionery products in sweet shops and candy stores to be opened using money provided by the Grand High Witch. Bruno is lured into the room, having already been given chocolate laced with the formula a few hours earlier. He turns into a mouse and flees. Luke attempts to escape but is also captured and turned into a mouse, though he avoids being squashed. He finds Bruno and reunites with Helga who recovered while Luke was adventuring.
Luke devises a plan to kill the witches by sneaking into the Grand High Witch's room to steal a bottle of the formula. Luke manages to drop the bottle into a pot of cress soup destined for the witches' dinner tables. Mr. Jenkins also orders the soup, though Helga stops him from consuming it at the last minute.
As the witches enter the dining room, the Grand High Witch's former assistant Miss Irvine quits working with the witches, and gets spared from the massacre that is about to happen. The formula turns all the witches into mice, just after Bruno speaks up to tell his father that he is really a mouse. The staff and hotel guests join in killing the mice, unknowingly ridding England of its witches, as Helga returns Bruno to his parents. The Grand High Witch is spotted by Helga, who traps her under a water jug, enabling Mr. Stringer to dispatch her with a meat cleaver.
The Witches (2020)
The Grand High Witch first appears when the grandmother is telling her grandson (Charlie) about Witches. She tells him about her friend Alice, who was transformed into a chicken by the Grand High Witch. The grandmother also mentions how to spot a witch; mentioning the fact that they wear gloves to hide their three-fingered hands; and the fact that they have no toes; she also mentions that Witches wear wigs to hide their baldness. Later in the movie, The Grand High Witch arrives with all the Witches in America at a fancy hotel (where Charlie and the grandmother are staying). When Charlie is playing with his pet mouse, Daisy, in the ballroom, The Grand High Witch enters with the other Witches (they are preparing to have their yearly annual meeting). Charlie and Daisy hide while the meeting starts and they witness The Grand High Witch and the others come into their true forms. The Grand High Witch mocks the Witches due to their inability to eliminate all the children.
As she prepares to give out her orders, Beatrice asks if The Grand High Witch has a plan and states that it would be almost impossible to wipe out all the children. The Grand High Witch responds to this by firing a spell at Beatrice, causing her to turn into ash. Later in the meeting, The Grand High Witch introduces her new Formula 86 to the Witches, a potion which turns children into mice. She demonstrates the effects of the potion on a young boy named Bruno. She told Bruno to meet her in the conference room and she would give him chocolate. When Bruno arrives, he transforms into a mouse (he had consumed the potion the day before when she gave him chocolate). The Witches are delighted at seeing this and applaud The Grand High Witch. However, she silences them as she locates Charlie, who is still hidden. She then transforms him into a mouse. Charlie, Bruno and Daisy try to escape through a vent. The Grand High Witch tries to grab them by putting her hands into the vent but they get cut and the mice escape.
With the help of the grandmother, Charlie, Bruno and Daisy (who is actually once an orphaned young human girl named Mary turned into a mouse by a witch four months prior to the events of the film) steal some of the Formula and put it in the soup that the Witches are eating for dinner at the hotel. At dinner, The Grand High Witch almost eats her soup but stops and walks over to the grandmother, who she suspects is 'up to something'. As she begins speaking to the grandmother, one of the Witches lets out a shriek as she transforms into a mouse after consuming the soup. The Grand High Witch watches in horror as her underlings turn into mice. However, because she didn't consume the soup, The Grand High Witch does not transform into a mouse, which leads to a showdown in her hotel room. The Grand High Witch extends her arms to grab the grandmother. However, Bruno shoves a mouse-trap onto The Grand High Witch's foot, slicing her only toe. As The Grand High Witch screams in agony, Charlie catapults into the air and shoves the Formula into her open mouth. The mice watch in pleasure as The Grand High Witch transforms into an ugly mouse. The grandmother traps her in an ice bucket and leaves the room with the mice. Later, The Grand High Witch's cat, Hades tries to knock over the ice bucket (with the intent to eat her and payback for her mistreatment of locking him up in a cage in anger). The Grand High Witch pleads with her cat, who attacks her. The Grand High Witch is then killed and eaten by her cat.
After The Grand High Witch's death and the defeat of the Witches in America, Charlie, Bruno, Mary and the grandmother teach kids about how to avoid Witches as well as fighting them. It is unknown what happened to her cat, but it can be presumed that the hotel staff found it and gave it to animal shelters. It is also unknown who the next Grand High Witch was, or if there wasn't one and the Witches were left without a leader.
- According to Luke's Grandmother, the Grand High Witch is "the most evil woman in creation". Unlike the other witches, she wishes to kill all the children in England.
- It should be noted that while in the book, the Grand High Witch is the first witch to transform into a mouse, in the 1990 movie she is the last (unless you count Susan Irvine, who did not transform at all).
- Unlike the other witches, who at least show a little concern for adults, the Grand High Witch has absolutely no care for the collateral damage her schemes could cause them. This is shown when a witch asks what would happen if an adult consumed their formula, and the Grand High Witch replies: "Then that's just too bad for the grownup".
- In the book, the Grand High Witch does not take off her gloves, wig or shoes which implies she has more to hide, while she does do so in the 1990 film.
- In the book, it is revealed that the Grand High Witch is Norwegian, and she is also a famous baroness in Norway.
- While not confirmed, the 1990 film heavily hints that the Grand High Witch was the witch Helga met when she was little, and likely the one responsible for which she lost one of her thumbs, given that the Grand High Witch refers to her as an "old adversary". In the book, Helga never tells Luke why she lost her thumb or how her only encounter with a witch on her childhood consisted, with the excuse it could give him nightmares, leading Luke to speculate on what the witch could have did with his grandmother's thumb.
- In a Google Hangout, Lucy Dahl revealed that the Grand High Witch was in part based on her stepmother. Lucy stated it was not her stepmother's personality, but the look and social status that was the inspiring factor. Lucy also seriously stated she wasn't entirely convinced witches were fiction, citing a neighbor who, "If Witches are real, she's one of them."
- The Grand High Witch has countless subordinates, including Woman in Black, and Lois Leffour.
- Although Roald Dahl hated the 1990 film due to the changed ending, as he had wanted to keep the original ending with Luke remaining as a mouse and him and his grandmother vowing to spend the rest of their lives stopping other witches in other countries. While the movie featured Luke turning back into a human, with Dahl calling the adaptation "utterly appalling", he still loved Anjelica Huston's performance.
- In the 2020 film, Luke remains a mouse, pertaining to the late Dahl's wishes.