by Diana Wynne Jones
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.”
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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?