I wanted to read Howl’s Moving Castle by Diana Wynne Jones because of the movie adapted by Hayao Miyazaki. Terrible, I know, but I’m a huge Miyazaki fan and now I want to read more by Diana Wynne Jones, so win-win.
In the land of Ingary, where seven league boots and cloaks of invisibility do exist, Sophie Hatter catches the unwelcome attention of the Witch of the Waste and is put under a spell.
Deciding she has nothing more to lose, she makes her way to the moving castle that hovers on the hills above Market Chipping. But the castle belongs to the dreaded Wizard Howl whose appetite, they say, is satisfied only by the souls of young girls… There she meets Michael, Howl′s apprentice, and Calcifer the Fire Demon, with whom she agrees a pact.
But Sophie isn′t the only one under a curse – her entanglements with Calcifer, Howl, and Michael, and her quest to break her curse is both gripping – and funny!
From the Canadian publisher, HarperCollins. Originally published in 1986 in England.
I had trouble getting some of Miyazaki’s imagery out of my head, especially with descriptions of Sophie, Howl, the castle, and even Calcifer’s voice (courtesy of Billy Crystal). But none of that impeded my enjoyment of the novel, and the thrill of the quiet adventure within the pages.
Sophie’s spell turns her into an old woman and she is unable to tell anyone about the curse. She becomes part of Wizard Howl’s household—his castle—with the intention of breaking the contract between Calcifer and Howl. Now, the castle was incredible, with doors opening in four different locations, it only really existed in one location. One castle roamed the countryside, one door opened to the capital city, and one door even opened to Howl’s childhood town.
Howl is an anti-hero. Throughout the book we get Sophie’s unedited opinions on Howl and his temper, arrogance, mood-swings, and self-centeredness. But there is more than meets the eye with Wizard Howl. He may not explain his actions, but he is not a heartless bastard. The banter that Howl has (usually with Sophie) really shows Diana Wynne Jones’ writing skill—Howl’s Moving Castle is funny, fun, and fantastical.
On The Movie Adaptation
I don’t need to outline all the minute details that are different in the book versus the film. The fact is that they are both different works of art in their own ways. Hayao Miyazaki infuses his own style into the movie, and that turns it into something completely new and beautiful.
When trying to explain the differences between the movie and the film, Diana Wynne Jones mentioned in the afterword in my copy of the book that she and Miyazaki both lived through a world war, and both dealt with it very differently in their work. Miyazaki, as a pacifist, usually has a character who is avoiding the conflict, in this case, Howl. In the book, there is no war and Howl is really just avoiding work because he’s lazy and self-involved. But that wouldn’t make for a very exciting movie, and a lot of the humour from the novel doesn’t cross over into the movie.
Also, Miyazaki always uses some kind of flying machines. It’s almost a signature and intriguing to notice all the subtle uses of flying in his work.
The stories are slightly different—the book is more about Sophie, Howl, and their curses; the movie focuses more on the mounting war and the Witch of the Waste plays a more pivotal role.