The last favourite book. I still haven’t figured out what to do for bi-monthly post next year, so any ideas are welcome!
DIANA WYNNE JONES: HOWL’S MOVING CASTLE
Published: Methuen Children’s Books Ltd 1986
Pages: 302 (Harper Collins 2005)
Series: Howl’s Moving Castle #1
“How about making a bargain with me?” said the demon. “I’ll break your spell if you agree to break this contract I’m under.”
In the land of Ingary, where seven-league boots and cloaks of invisibility do exist, Sophie Hatter attracts the unwelcome attention of the Witch of the Waste and is put under a curse. Determined to make the best of things, Sophie travels to the one place where she might get help – the moving castle which hovers on the nearby hills.
But the castle belongs to the dreaded Wizard Howl whose appetite, they say, is satisfied only by the hearts of young girls…
I’ve been watching Hayao Miyazaki’s films since I was a kid, and of course I went to see Howl’s Moving Castle when it came out 2005. You have probably seen the film, or at least heard of it. It’s a beautiful, beautiful movie.
However, it’s vastly different from the book, and I like the latter better. Although a children’s book, Howl’s Moving Castle is surprisingly violent and serious. Not too much of those though, only enough to keep an adult reader entertained and just as intrigued as the child reader. I have read the book several times now, and there is always something I have missed before: a literary reference (my particular joy), a hint of an adult topic, a reference to something that to the main character Sophie seems incomprehensible but that comes from our world.
There’s also the matter of ages. Sophie is about eighteen, Howl in his early twenties. I’m still close enough to them in age to see how they think; when I first read the book, they seemed old. This is also one of the messages of the book – the perspective age gives. As an old woman, Sophie sees Howl as a child. Michael, Howl’s apprentice, is even younger. This makes the book so wonderful to read again and again: you are of a different age yourself, so you get a different view on things.
There is also a puzzle in the book. I’m not talking about the spell – John Donne’s wonderful poem ‘Go and catch a falling star’ is here utilized very deftly – but the puzzle of identities and motivations. What is Sophie’s stepmother Fanny really like? What does the Scarecrow want? What or who is the dog? What happened to Prince Justin? You won’t know until the end, although you can take your guesses and, if you’re very clever, be right. The movie will not help you here, as it has excluded all this.
I also have to mention the wonderful chapter titles. My favourites would have to be, ‘Chapter Six, in which Howl expresses his feelings with green slime’, ‘Chapter Fourteen, in which a Royal Wizard catches a cold’, and, ‘Chapter Nineteen, in which Sophie expresses her feelings with weed-killer’. Of particular charm is also ‘Chapter Eleven, in which Howl goes to a strange country in search of a spell’.
Howl’s Moving Castle is a wonderful book, and a fairly quick read. It’ll keep you entertained on consecutive readings as well, and I promise it will always give you something new.
Also, the scene with drunk Howl is particularly hilarious.
Diana Wynne Jones died in March 2011. A great loss for the field of fantasy literature. She will be fondly remembered by all her readers, even those like me who would like to read more of her works but only seem to manage one every couple of years.