Howl’s Moving Castle

by Diana Wynne Jones
ages: 12+
First sentence: “In the land of Ingary, where such things as seven-league boots and cloaks of invisibility really exist, it is quite a misfortune to be born the eldest of three.”
Support your local independent bookstore: buy it there.

My third outing with Diana Wynne Jones, and I have to say that I understand why she’s beloved by many. The book was wonderful. Not in a gripping, suspenseful, exciting sort of way. But in a quiet, sweet, kind, yet somehow completely and totally amazing sort of way.

For those who have neither read the book or seen the movie, our main character, Sophie, is the eldest of three daughters. Which pretty much means she’s bound to fail. (As the stories go.) A daughter of a women’s hat shop owner, she’s pretty much resigned to staying there forever. Her sisters manage to get away in apprenticeships — one to a bakery, the other to a witch — but she believes that she’s forever stuck. That is until the Witch of the Waste comes in, has a conitpitoin fit and turns Sophie into an old woman. Sophie figures it’s not going to get much worse, and sets off to seek her fortune, in the form of making a bargain with the Wicked Wizard Howl. Only, she discovers, once inside his moving castle, that things aren’t quite what they seem, and she’s going to get a whole lot more than she bargained for.

I liked it because it was quiet. Everything unfolded properly in its due time, and while the foundation was there, it wasn’t necessarily obvious: I didn’t see the ending coming from a mile away, and yet it didn’t feel like a surprise either. Everything was as it should be. Sophie’s a fabulous main character: determined, if a bit stubborn. Fearless, if a bit pushy. Altogether winning and immanently likable.

The minor characters were thoroughly likable, too. From Sophie’s sisters, Martha and Lettie, to Michael, How’ls apprentice, to Calcifer, the fire demon who’s helping manage Howl’s castle: they were all developed in their own separate ways, adding depth and dimension to the story.

And, then there’s Howl. I have got to stop falling for fictional men, but seriously: I adored him. Sure, he’s a fop and a dandy, and he tries (so hard) to undervalue himself, and yet he’s so wonderfully awesome, in his own way. It all comes on so slowly, and the use of magic is relatively underrated (there’s one battle, near the end, but for the most part it’s just little things), that you don’t quite realize that you’re adoring Howl until it’s too late. Which is, I suppose, how it should be.

My only problem is that I’m a bit wary about watching the Miyazki movie. Should I be?

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12 thoughts on “Howl’s Moving Castle

  1. I've only seen the movie, and I honestly can't remember too terribly much about it, except that I had no idea what was going on most of the time. I felt like I was supposed to, though, which was a problem! I'm glad to see that the book isn't like that… perhaps I'll have to pick it up!

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  2. I'm so glad you enjoyed it! DWJ is one of my all time favorite authors. She does have a way of making twisting her stories round and round so you don't know quite what to expect next.
    I just read the sequel to Howl this summer — The House of Many Ways. Howl, Sophie and Calcifer are part of the story though not the main characters and don't show up until quite a ways into the book. Still good fun.
    Thanks for the review.
    Tammy
    Apples with Many Seed

    Can't say anything about the movie except that I'm like you — a little trepidious.

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  3. I recently discovered the awesome that is the book, too! Ah, reading your review reminded me how much I liked Howl too, the jerk πŸ™‚

    Can't tell you anything about the movie either. Let us know if you do watch it!

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  4. I'm delurking after many months of reading and enjoying your blog. I haven't read this book (yet), but I really LOVED the movie. I'm a longtime fan of Miyazaki, which likely influenced me a bit. I can't wait to read the book, but need to get through my mountainous TBR pile first.

    So, I don't think you'll be disappointed. It's really fabulous, even if it is different. Reading your review of the book, the biggest difference I anticipate is that the movie focuses more on an ongoing battle that influences some of the action. But ultimately, I think the magical experience of the story is there in the movie as well.

    Hope you enjoy!

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  5. I really LOVE this book – one of my all-time favorites! πŸ™‚

    I have watched the movie and it really stands on its own, I think. It won't be exactly like the book and changes some things, but Miyazaki does some pretty breath-taking work! So if you do watch the movie, go with no expectations that it will follow the book!

    Loved the sequel Castle In The Air too, but I wasn't a big fan of House Of Many Ways. Not sure why.

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  6. the daughter (age 10) has read the book and it is on my TBR.. I asked her how it compares to the film (which we've seen several times; we love Miyazaki). She liked them both fairly individually. Like the film was influenced by the book, but was not trying too hard to follow it.

    and christian bale is the voice of Howl…

    ~L

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  7. This was a TERRIFIC review. I truly felt the same way you did, but you expressed yourself so very well. You're right, it was “quiet”, and how I needed that when I read it. This book was a great hospital companion this summer. It “traveled well” and kept me smiling when at times all I wanted to do was cry.

    You nailed this!

    I have the movie (courtesy of my book group) but haven't watched it. Maybe Fall break would be a great time. I'll keep you posted πŸ™‚

    Great job.
    PS. I'm glad to know that I'm not the only one who was a bit smitten by 'bad-boy' Howl. Too funny.

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  8. I'm de-lurking myself, too. I saw the Miyazaki movie first, and it blew me away, so much so that I decided to read the book. I found out that the book was a bit different, but, like you, I also liked its quietness.

    Oh, and I fell in love with Howl, too. The movie Howl first, then the book Howl. If you're watching the movie, though, I'd say let it stand on its own. Miyazaki does wonderful things to the story, especially given his environmental agenda.

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  9. Amanda — you need to. It's not blow me away, but it's really quite lovely.

    As for the rest of you who gave me a heads up on watching the movie individually, I did enjoy it on it's own terms. Miyazaki is a wonderful storyteller, and there were parts of the book he handled well. There were some things I didn't like, and I missed a fierce and wild Witch of the Waste, but for the most part, it was a good movie.

    The book, however, is better. πŸ˜€

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  10. The movie started off similar to the book, but it went in a different direction. To be honest I thought the book had a richer plot, however Miyazki did an amazing job creating the world in it. The visuals were breathtaking and the story was quite interesting.

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