Howl’s Moving Castle – Diana Wynes Jones | Book Review

Hello lovely people,

I make no secret of my love for Ghibli movies. Ghibli movies are one of my biggest inspirations for my writing and personal philosophy. They have a profound message, yet appear light-hearted. They are wholesome, even when they are sad and/or show the evil side of humanity, such as war. They are created with much love, and I think the viewer can feel the love coming through the screen. I think Hayao Miyazaki is a genius who still hasn’t got the recognition he deserves. But then so do many great storytellers who are not from the West (then again, we should stop seeing the Western World as the only opinion or success/recognition from the Western World as the only recognition). Anyways, I’ve been recently, and randomly, obsessing about Howl’s Moving Castle. I watched the movie several years ago, and thought it was ‘quite good’, but somehow the story has taken hold of my heart this spring. I watched the movie again and fell in love with Howl. I had to know more. I had to read the book!

Howl’s Moving Castle was first published in 1986. It is actually a book series, consisting of five novels (and it has to be added, Castle in the Air has nothing to do with Ghibli’s movie Castle in the Sky). Now that I’ve read the first book, I definitely want to read the other four books. The book goes much deeper into the characters and their woes, though some things (such as the scarecrow and visiting the Queen (in the book, the King)) have been expanded on in the movie. Sophie is the eldest sister of three siblings. Her other sisters are Lettie and Martha, who are sent away by their step-mother Polly, who hasn’t got enough money to pay for school after their father has died. Sophie constantly thinks of herself as a failure as she’s the eldest sibling, often justifying her ‘bad luck’ (which is actually her nosiness and clumsiness) with being born first. This does get annoying after quite a while, I won’t lie. But it’s part of her character development. Howl is a real womaniser in the novel, or so it seems. He’s constantly off with his guitar and hat to ingratiate himself with women until they’ve fallen in love with him – then he’s losing interest (alas, he literally doesn’t have a heart in his chest). It is narrated in the omniscient third-person but with the focus on Sophie, and she is quite a judgemental person, especially when she starts living as an old woman. Until the very end, when Howl has to literally spit out everything (who is also the master of ‘slithering away’ as it is often remarked), that he was never going for his sister Letti or an English teacher (who turns out to be a fire demon, ups), but did everything for the sake of reversing Sophie’s curse. He also gets cursed by the Witch of the Waste, starting to be more truthful. And of course, he’s got his ‘own course’, the bond with Calcifer, who, in the book isn’t quite as cute as in the ghibli movie. He has green eyebrows and the face of a human. Then there’s Michael, who is young, but not a child in the book. He falls in love with Letti, Sophie’s sister.

Howl is quite a drama queen, in the movie, and especially in the book. But so is also Sophie at times, I guess almost every character. It must be all the magic. Oh, and Sophie’s a witch! She accidentally bewitched Howl’s coat, making him even more unresistible to the ladies. So, can you even blame him? Perhaps. He’s quite frivolous, but in his room, his window shows him how his family lives in his hometown; a village in Wales. So yes, he does care about his family and the people close to him. He didn’t turn Michael or Sophie away, who ‘randomly’ entered his castle (fun fact: the castle in the book is all black, and looks like a real castle). Also, Howl’s been secretly looking for the lost Prince, just acting as if he wouldn’t. Yes, he’s quite special, isn’t he? – and that’s why we love him!

I would say that the book and the movie should be seen as two different stories. The movie, as every other movie adaptation of a book, should be seen as an interpretation of the book (obviously, never vice versa). I think nowadays most people will have seen the movie first, and then perhaps read the book (alas, many people don’t even know that the movie is based on a book, and that is really quite sad.) There is no war in the novel. Miyazaki, who always likes a good war (irony for those who don’t get it), probably couldn’t help himself but include it. Also, Howl doesn’t turn into a big black bird or think of himself as a monster (though he does admit he’s a coward).

I must admit, this book review is quite random, isn’t it? It’s more like a stream-of-consciousness of the book, but then again, I do want my book reviews to be a bit different from most book reviews. I do recommend the book! If you buy my edition, the book only has 302 pages, plus a small interview with the author (she liked the movie btw! But then again, how could she not?). It is written in fairly simple English, in a magical way, just like the story itself. I enjoyed Sophie’s character development, and how different (i.e. nosy, direct, and sometimes also rude) she became when she was an old woman. I thought, how nice would it be if young people could already act a bit more careless, a bit more authentic and true to themselves. When you’re young you have to be careful about so many things as the consequences of your action and words could have detrimental consequences on your life. When you’re old you needn’t fear the consequences as much anymore, and get away with more things. Sophie must have got a liking to it, as Howl later tells her that he tried everything to turn her back to normal, but she must’ve liked being old. But in the end, just like in the movie, all ends well. Sophie is young again and realises that she’s just been telling herself that Howl’s a bad guy, and that she actually really likes him. Polly also isn’t a bad stepmother as Sophie’s sister made her out to be. Perhaps sometimes we just form a narrative on assumptions and what other people told us, and hold them for the truth, unjustly condemning a person.


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