Howl's Moving Castle

Diana Wynne Jones
Howl's Moving Castle Cover

Howl's Moving Castle


Just finished reading Howl's Moving Castle by Diana Wynne Jones. This book is just so good that I want everybody to read it. Right now. Not only did I love this, not only did it make me laugh at inopportune times, but I felt annoyed when I had to stop reading and it's just got me so excited that I want to talk to everybody else about it. I devoured it. I sat reading in my lunch time laughing and giggling and attracting some very strange looks. My colleagues, intrigued, were like 'what you reading?' 'Howl's Moving Castle', I said. 'Oh, I didn't know that was a book!' The funny thing is neither did I! In fact it would never have occurred to me to be honest. I love the film, I really do. Could I choose between the two? Probably at the moment I'd err on the side of the book, but that's because it's still so fresh and is still making me smile. I'll have to go and rewatch the film to see how it compares. Anyway, thank goodness for Worlds Without End - without their Women of Genre reading challenge I may never have picked this book up and that would have been a damned fine shame!

The story starts with Sophie. The eldest of three sisters she is destined to fail - it's the strange will of the fairytale land in which she lives, after all, it's always the younger sister/princess who is the real focus of the story as we all know. Her two younger sisters experience all the fun and freedom and are even sent out into the world to gain meaningful employment whilst Sophie remains at home, working in the hat shop that belonged to her late father and seemingly becoming more diminished and shrunken as time goes on. The strange thing with Sophie though is that she seems to hold deep within herself a magical ability that allows her to imbibe everyday objects almost with a life force of their own. Unfortunately, these abilities draw the attention of the Witch of the Waste and certainly not in a good way! The Witch of the Waste is a whole lot of bad, she's jealous of any other magical ability and so she goes in search of Sophie. Of course, Sophie is no match for this wicked witch who curses her turning her into an old woman and thus starting this wonderful adventure.

Sophie sets out to make her own fortune. Or so she tells herself. In truth, she can't face the people who she knows and loves especially as part of the condition of the curse means she is unable to tell anyone of her predicament. She can't even be sure people will recognise her so she sets off on her lonely road. Well, it starts off lonely but doesn't remain that way for long as Sophie helps a couple of 'things' in need. Finally, she literally stumbles upon Howl's moving castle. Howl is a wizard with a terrible reputation. His magic is feared by many and not only that he kidnaps young women and eats them! Or their souls!! Now, maybe you wouldn't fancy hitching a lift on a strange moving chimney pot where a wicked wizard lives but this seems like Sophie's best chance for now, particularly as she's realised just how tired and aching her very much older bones feel, and so, after a bit of a struggle she hops on board.

I'm not going to go too much further into the story. There's obviously the wicked witch and her terrible plans coupled with the strange goings on in the moving castle - particularly Howl who seems to be far from wicked and who's bad reputation is something he seems to have enjoyed nurturing himself! He does seem to be a lady's man however and apparently leaves broken hearts in his wake.

Clearly this is a children's book and so from that aspect there isn't any really indepth world building. And, I don't say that as a criticism but more just as a simple statement of fact. The author goes about writing the story in such a straightforward way that almost takes for granted that the reader will already be fully up to speed with the land of fairytales and will just jump right on board with ease. And that really is the case. Everything in the story is fantastical. The castle is a sort of dark chimney that travels the country. The inside is like a ramshackle cottage! The broom cupboard seems to lead to the bedrooms and the doorway opens onto four different landscapes depending on which way you open it! It's just chock full of imagination.

On top of that the characters are brilliant. Obviously Sophie, Howl and the fire demon, Calcifer, steal the show. Howl seems to be a terribly vain and sometimes quite cool character. To all intents he seems to spend the majority of his time preening himself before he goes to woo his next victim. Sophie, who manages to stay aboard his moving home by dint of becoming his cleaning lady, spends most of her time grumping around the place and searching the nooks and crannies for the hidden souls of the girls she believes Howl has eaten! Calcifer the demon is contracted to Howl and wants to break free - he sees Sophie has his only hope and promises to help her remove her own curse in return. And, we have the wizard's apprentice Michael who spends a good deal of his time scratching his head in puzzlement or dashing around the place as he fetches and carries for his master. Of course, ultimately, nothing is as it at first appears and all the characters will eventually be revealed in a different light. Sophie finds being cursed as an old woman very liberating. She's no longer afraid to speak her mind. She's curmudgeonly. She makes mistakes and then harrumphs when anybody points them out but aboard the castle she unexpectedly seems to find a whole new meaning for her life. Howl is quite far from what he seems. I loved his wit. I loved the way he treated Sophie and I think it's great that this eventually turns into something more - a romance - totally untraditional of course.

This is such a delightful, funny and exquisite book. So many fairy tale tropes rolled out and poked fun at in a really engaging way. I don't think it would be possible to read this without trying to spot your own favourites, for example, for me there was definitely a Wizard of Oz feel to the tale.

It's a little bit of fantasy, a little bit of a fairy story, a romance, a puzzle and a bundle of laughs. I hope you read it if you haven't already done so, and if you have, I hope you come and talk to me about it!