Saturday, August 22, 2015

Howl's Moving Castle by Diana Wynne Jones - The Original

Pros: A unique tale with nifty goodies
Cons: I never liked Howl

The Bottom Line: Close to five stars, but not quite - maybe I'm just picky about my books these days...

Hayao Miyazaki’s Howl’s Moving Castle has origins, and those origins are here, with the creation of Diana Wynne Jones’s book of the same title. The moment I heard the movie came from a book, I sought it out and finished the mere 212 page book in two days.

Sophie is the eldest of three, which means she won’t amount to much, or so everyone says. After her father dies, her mother Fanny sends her sisters Martha and Lettie off so they can make their fortunes and Sophie is to stay at the hat shop and become and apprentice. So Sophie makes hats. Day after day. She talks to them a little too, since there’s not much else to do while making hats. But one evening a woman comes in – a woman who turns out to be the Witch of the Waste, and when Sophie doesn’t give her what she wants, *poof!* a spell is cast and Sophie becomes an old woman. Drat.

Deciding to set out on her own even as an old woman, Sophie leaves and heads out, winding up inside Howl’s moving castle where she meets Michael, Howl’s young apprentice, and Calcifer, a fire demon. Calcifer sees Sophie is under a spell and they make a deal – Sophie breaks Calcifer’s contract with Howl and he will break her spell. Sophie agrees and announces herself as Howl’s new cleaning lady. But during her time there she learns that Howl does steal hearts – figuratively, and then breaks them, one of which may be her sister. There’s an odd and frightening scarecrow that keeps chasing after the castle. The Witch of the Waste is after Howl. Howl himself is a selfish pretty boy, whose talents are great, but redeeming qualities few. And throughout all this, Sophie learns a thing or two about herself and her own talents.

9 out of 10 times the book is better than the movie. Though this book was good in its own way, I liked the movie better. Actually, I think a meshing of the two would make things perfect, but that’s beside the point. Jones’s writing style is crisp and clear, and she gives us plenty of magical items and encounters, and people to boot. A man stuck as a dog. A scarecrow with a mind of its own. Boots that zip you ten miles over the landscape. A spell with some very unique end results. And of course, a castle that moves and has a door that opens to four locations. Delightful.

I think Howl and the very end was my only problem. Though I like all the characters and everything that is happening, it was no surprise that Howl was a spoiled pretty boy. But I expected to see some change as the book went along. Maybe I missed it, but I don’t ever recall seeing any. The things he says to Sophie are never truly mean-spirited, but I personally wouldn’t take to kindly to them either. Naturally Sophie is annoyed or angry with him most of the time, but at the end suddenly it’s as though we have a complete 180 by both characters. Actually just Sophie – there’s only one tiny instance before when we spot a change in Howl, but that’s it. Even in the book is said that he hadn’t changed much. I’m just not convinced she would fall for him, as I expected I should be.

But aside from all that, it’s a cute book. Read it to your kids, they’ll probably enjoy it. The plot may be a tad bit thick, what with the missing persons and the scarecrow’s purpose and what the bad guy was trying to do exactly. But read it yourself if you’re curious; you can’t go wrong when there’s a little fire demon involved.


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