Rating: 8 out of 10
I first read Howl’s Moving Castle in the 3rd or 4th grade, can’t really remember, and after reading House of Many Ways, reviewed in the previous post, I wanted to read it again! In reality this is probably the third or fourth time I’ve re-read it…
Sophie Hatter is doomed to a normal and boring life. As the eldest of three girls, she knows that her future will not include a charming prince, fabulous riches, or any magical ability–as everyone knows from the old fairytales, adventures are always left to the youngest of 3 siblings. Even worse, her family is actually quite prosperous, not poor and hungry like all the stories say one must be in order to go on a quest and having a happy ending. Her stepmother Fanny, really isn’t the least bit evil, and treats Sophie as if she were her own natural daughter.
Things change when Sophie’s father dies and leaves some debt to his family; in order to keep everything running, Fanny sends the two younger girls out to apprenticeships–Lettie (the 2nd oldest sister) to a bakery, and Martha (the youngest, and the one with the most chance of making her fortune) to a witch named Mrs. Fairfax in order to learn magic. Sophie stays on at the family’s hat shop, where she makes hats all day and generally lives a dull existence. She starts talking to her hats in order to pass the time, and her hats eventually become extremely popular. Popular enough to attract the attention of the Witch of the Waste, who sweeps in and places a curse on Sophie, turning her in to an old lady!
Sophie leaves town, afriad her family will see her in this state, and catches a ride on the mysterious flying castle of the Wizard Howl, who is known to be extremely evil and partial to eating the hearts and souls of beautiful young girls. She meets Michael, Howl’s apprentice, and Calcier, the fire demon who keeps the castle running. Sophie learns that the castle isn’t really a castle at all, but it has a magic door with a special colored knob–each color, when turned, lets the door open onto different locations.
The Wizard Howl himself is a dilemma; he’s vain, self-centered, and seems to completely ignore Sophie for the first few days she stays on in the castle, claiming to be an old cleaning lady. He spends all his time chasing girls, and dropping them the minute they start returning his interest. But at the same time he is kind to poor townspeople needing magical spells, and has a connection to a strange mysterious place called Wales, England…
Sophie soon finds out that other things are going wrong in the world–the King’s brother and Royal Wizard have gone missing, and the Witch of the Waste is making trouble for everyone. Then there’s her own old-lady curse that needs figuring out.
I’m on a Diana-Wynne-Jones binge right now, after reading House of Many Ways. I finished Howl’s Moving Castle in a few hours, and am currently reading The Dark Lord of Derkholm.
I really enjoyed Howl’s Moving Castle, I do everytime I read it, and it’s a good mix of humor, adventure, and all the crazy original ideas that Jones comes up with. She also has a way of pulling everything together really well in the end. Minor characters you briefly hear about in the beginning turn out to have connections to the larger plot and end up being more important than you realized.
Hayao Miyazaki, remarkable Japanese animator, made a film based on Jones’ book, also titled Howl’s Moving Castle. When I first heard that Miyazaki, film-genius, and Jones, writing-genius, were basically making a joint creation, I thought it was the best thing ever. I enjoyed the movie too, even though it didn’t completely follow Jones’ original plot. This was the first time I’d re-read it since seeing the movie, and a lot of the movie images and voices turned up while I was reading.
Howl’s Moving Castle also has a pseudo-sequel, called Castle in the Air. Also good, and involves some of the characters from the first book.