Friday, May 28, 2010

Book Recommendation: Howl's Moving Castle

I have a very short list of books that I reread on a semi-regular basis.  Watership Down is one of them, and it gets better every time I read it.  A more recent addition to the list is Howl's Moving Castle by Diana Wynne Jones.  I discovered it only in the past year, and I loved it so much I've already moved it to the short list of favorites.  I reread it this week—just now finished it—and I still find it absolutely delightful.

The story is about a girl named Sophie Hatter who believes her life will always be dull because she is the oldest of three sisters (it's always the youngest that lives an exciting life, after all).  But one day she is turned into an old woman by an evil witch, and she decides if she's old she might as well go out and seek her fortune after all.  She heads to the one place where the curse on her might be broken: the ever-moving castle of Wizard Howl, whom she believes to be a heartless, girl-eating monster.

To me the best part of this story is its characters.  Each of them is terribly flawed, and yet quite lovable.  Sophie is grumpy but entertaining, and she has the one kind of magic that I always wished most I could have.  Howl is self-absorbed, fickle and an absolute mess, but he's terribly sweet underneath it all.  Michael, Howl's apprentice, is easily disgruntled, but he can be very thoughtful too.  And Calcifer, the fire demon whose magic keeps the castle moving, is sulky and overly dramatic, but he really does care for those who befriend him.

Their adventure together is witty and whimsical.  The story puts me in a very good mood after I've read it.  The world feels just as it should be.  In fact, I think all of Diana Wynne Jones's book have this quality.  I will happily read anything she has written.  I think everyone should read at least one of her books, and Howl's Moving Castle may well be her best.  If you haven't read it yet, go out and find a copy right away!

Now if I could just get my hands on the movie adaptation of Howl's Moving Castle.  I've heard so many good things...


  1. I did not even realize that it was not originally written by Miyazaki! The movie adaptation is delightful, but you have piqued my interest in the book and author. Her Chrestomanci books seem fascinating--have you read any of those?

  2. I remember first hearing that Howl's Moving Castle was based on a novel by a British author, and I thought to myself "how odd..."

    After seeing the movie however, I was amazed at how well Jones' story suited a Miyazaki film. As disparate as their cultures may seem, there are times when Britain and Japan mesh at a very intrinsic level - both do very well at generating stories of a certain kind of whimsical fantasy.

    We should get together and watch the movie some time. They actually got decent voice actors for the English version (which is a rarity for most Japanese animation), and Billy Crystal does a fantastic Calcifer.

  3. You have a good point about the Britain-Japan connection. I never thought of it that way, but yes, they both have a whimsical side.

    And I would love to see the movie. Do you own it? I can't remember seeing it in your movie drawer, so we'll probably have to rent it. Billy Crystal as Calcifer?! Awesome! Looking forward to that!

    Austin--I haven't actually read the Chrestomanci books, though I've certainly heard of them. I've read all the moving castle books, Dark Lord of Derkholm and Year of the Griffin, Deep Secret... and you know, I think that's actually all I've gotten to so far. Dark Lord of Derkholm was inspired by her work on The Tough Guide to Fantasyland, which is hilarious and perhaps one of the best things a fantasy writer can buy.