Review: Howl’s Moving Castle by Diana Wynne Jones

Category:

Fantasy

Rating:

Introduction:

Sophie, the eldest of three daughters, has a bleak future if she decides to leave her home to seek her destiny. Unfortunately, she unknowingly angers the Witch of the Waste, who casts a terrible spell on her that transforms her into an old lady. The only way to break the curse is to visit the Wizard Howl’s castle, which is constantly on the move in the hills. To undo the magic, Sophie must confront the heartless Howl, negotiate with a fire demon, and face off against the Witch of the Waste. Throughout her journey, she discovers that both Howl and she have hidden depths that are not immediately apparent.

Review:

Ever since I was a child, I have cherished Howl’s Moving Castle as one of my favorite books of all time. I have lost count of how many times I have read it, but despite this, I have never taken the time to write a review. I hope that I can give the book the credit it deserves with this review. Even though I loved the Ghibli Studio film adaptation of the book, I always thought it took away the essence of the story but to be fair you can only do so much within two hours and it was amazing in its own way and plot.

As a child, this book was one of the earliest ones that made me fall in love with the fantasy genre because I loved nothing more than to live in Howl’s Castle with it’s door that opens up portals to totally different cities and I fondly recall my dad laughing his booming laugh because I asked him whether we can also install something similar to our front door.

The characters that inhabit the fantastical realm of Ingary are what truly endear readers to the story of Howl’s Moving Castle. Jones expertly crafts a world that is both parallel and adjacent to our own. While the characters in the book may seem straightforward at first glance, they are all hiding intricate webs of motivations beneath the surface. Both Howl and the Witch are masters of using their appearances to manipulate situations to their advantage, which is in stark contrast to Sophie’s tendency to act impulsively without thinking things through. One of the book’s main themes is the idea that one’s identity can become a type of prison, with destructive patterns leading characters into trouble. Howl’s good looks, for example, create issues in his relationships, while Sophie’s lack of self-esteem is a major obstacle for her throughout the book. Overcoming expectations is also a key theme, such as the seemingly impossible task placed on Howl in the form of a John Donne poem. The quest to find a “woman true and fair” may have some misogynistic overtones, but Jones takes delight in subverting and overturning these expectations. This book presents a world where anything is possible, and it encourages readers to consider how their own expectations and self-sabotaging tendencies may be holding them back in life.

In this novel, appearances are often deceptive and Howl is a prime example of this. Jones’s skillful portrayal of gray characters was quite unusual for the children’s fantasy genre when it was first released in 1986. The characters are not simply good or evil, but rather complex individuals with hidden motivations. This is one reason why the novel is just as appealing to adults as it is to children, along with its great humor. For instance, Sophie may appear old and weak, but she is determined and strong-willed. Calcifer, the fire demon, may look evil, but he is actually quite charming and anxious. Even the moving castle appears menacing, but it is simply Howl’s home, enchanted to be mobile. This theme of homes representing their owners is also present in the novel, with Howl’s wandering castle representing his restless nature and the Witch’s isolated home reflecting her loneliness.

Sophie is the greatest and she’s a great role model to young girls. Although at the start she’s portrayed as timid and insecure, her one unwavering quality throughout the book is how easily she manages to adapt to situations. She never ever complains. I really loved this as a child and I still love her for this reason as an adult. However, as an old lady, Sophie undergoes a transformation and becomes a more assertive, practical, and occasionally grumpy person, without losing her kindness. She acquires a newfound courage and confidence that enable her even to control the chaotic, vain and times overly dramatic Howl, making her the most enigmatic and powerful character in the story.

Howl is a fascinating character in the novel, with both endearing and exasperating qualities. Initially, he appears to be a villainous figure, but as we get to know him better, we see his true nature. He is prone to dramatic outbursts (such as when he throws a fit over a bad hair dye job) and womanizing that leaves a trail of broken hearts in his wake. He is also cowardly and indecisive, earning him the nickname “slitherer-outer” from Sophie. Despite these flaws, there is a likable and charismatic side to Howl that makes him an intriguing character.

The side characters in this novel are so intricately developed that they feel like long-time companions. Calcifer, the adorable demon, is grumpy and sharp-witted, yet he has a tender heart. Michael, the assistant to Wizard Howl, is kind-hearted but scatterbrained. Without these two characters the story would be absolutely nothing.

Although the movie had a romantic element to it, the book does not. So if you have ever only watched the movie and are reluctant to recommend this to the youngsters in your life, please don’t worry. This is an amazing book that your kids will love and you too, if you give it a chance.

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