Howl’s Moving Castle #1. Author: Dianne Wynn Jones.
Sophie has the great misfortune of being the eldest of three daughters, destined to fail miserably should she ever leave home to seek her fate. But when she unwittingly attracts the ire of the Witch of the Waste, Sophie finds herself under a horrid spell that transforms her into an old lady. Her only chance at breaking it lies in the ever-moving castle in the hills: the Wizard Howl’s castle. To untangle the enchantment, Sophie must handle the heartless Howl, strike a bargain with a fire demon, and meet the Witch of the Waste head-on. Along the way, she discovers that there’s far more to Howl—and herself—than first meets the eye.
My younger siblings aren’t that much into reading – not as much as we wish they were – but when we got this trilogy for Christmas both of them (ages 12 and 10) devoured all three books in a matter of days, very nearly quarreling over who got which book.
And, yes, I had to steal the books in the evenings too, to see what all the fuss was about.
They’re great fun. I think the charm lies in a combination of quirky magic, in use and setting, and in the delightfully strong-willed, distinctive characters. One of Pixar’s ’22 Rules to Perfect Storytelling’ says “Give your characters opinions. Passive/malleable might seem likable to you as you write, but it’s poison to the audience.” Howl’s Moving Castle, and all the love showered on it, proves this point.
Sophie, the unfortunate eldest daughter, seems doomed to spend a quiet and boring life in the back of a hat-shop after her sisters are apprenticed out and she is placed in line to inherit. Until one day, without the least explanation, the Witch of the Waste comes barging in and curses her into an old lady’s body.
One would quite understand if Sophie’s reaction was “!!?!” probably accompanied with tears. Instead, she sets off immediately to find a wizard who can break it, even if that means approaching the mysterious Moving Castle and probably wicked Wizard Howl.
She does more than approach the castle. She invites herself in, basically hires herself on as a cleaning lady (Wizard Howl doesn’t seem much interested one way or another), and strikes a bargain with the fire-demon in the fireplace.
Sophie is a dreadful snoop, as Howl complains more than once – just because you made a bargain with their fire-demon doesn’t mean you have perfect right to go through someone’s belongings, Sophie. On the other hand, Howl’s quite aware of it. And he’s a vain drama-queen intent on breaking all the young ladies’ hearts. Nobody’s perfect. (All the characters here are far from perfect – that’s part of the fun. Who wants to read about bland, nice, people who never get into arguments?)
I think the moving castle with it’s changing doors and unpredictable magics dips into a bit of the same magic Hogwarts does. Not that Howl’s Moving Castle resembles any of the Harry Potter books at all – only that they happened to utilize some of the same off-beat fun. (Consider: Hogwarts itself is one of the main strengths of Rowling’s books, whereas Howl’s Moving Castle can put it’s ‘magical style’ in the background to focus on character.)
The ending was a bit confusing. Everything came together all at once, including a few plot lines I’d lost track of. And when I say “came together all at once” I mean all the important characters are literally crammed into the same room. It’s hectic. And loud. And funny.
Sexual Content: None, really, romantic content: Male character is described as “fickle”, always courting girls until they love him and then abandoning them, heartbroken.
Language: One ‘damnation’
Violence: The villain says that another character told her “over my dead body” and she took her at her word. (I.e. one character killed off screen.)