I was planning on doing my reviews immediately after experiencing a product since whatever I’ll be writing about will still be fresh in my mind. However, I don’t think that really works in favor of Howl’s Moving Castle. I think this book possesses a lot of subtlety and nuances that take time or possibly even repeated readings to completely digest. Nonetheless, I’ll try to do it justice.
I feel like I should mention the heavy case of adaptation displacement when it comes to Howl’s Moving Castle. Of the people that have heard this title, the vast majority have heard about or seen the movie created by Studio Ghibli. This review will be about the original book authored by Diana Wynne Jones. If I ever do review the movie, that will have its own separate review.
Despite the title, Howl’s Moving Castle is the story of Sophie Hatter. Being the eldest of three sisters, Sophie has resigned herself to living an uneventful life working in her father’s hat shop while her sisters go off and have their adventures. Indeed, she is not surprised at all when her stepmother sends them to apprentice at other places while Sophie stays behind.
Sophie’s uneventful life is turned on her head when she encounters the Witch of the Waste who curses her into being an old woman. Because the curse prevents her from telling anyone about the curse, Sophie exiles herself from her home. Through a series of events, she finds herself as the house cleaner to the infamous wizard Howl.
Lack of Surprise
Something that I found unusual in the book is Sophie’s lack of surprise to the things that happen to her. When she looks in the mirror and sees her elderly form, she just accepts it and begins planning how to deal with it. When she later makes discoveries that would leave most people in stuttering shock, Sophie simply takes it all in stride.
This mentality is by no means a bad thing, only unexpected. As a reader, I get to skip the part where the person either freaks out or mops around about how horrible their life is. Instead, we get to the part that actually moves the plot along. During the course of some works, I find myself annoyed with the characters because of their tendency to constantly focus on the effects on their lives and moping rather than doing something.
From a character viewpoint, this drive shows how strong Sophie is. Rather than breaking down, she instead says, “Okay, that happened. So what are you going to do about it?” I could easily see where a different character who was either vain or not as emotionally strong would cry about their life being over, but Sophie just picks herself up and tries to find a way to break her curse.
Love Letter to Fairy Tales
Howl’s Moving Castle appears to be both an homage and a parody to fairy tales told to children. A great deal of features common to fairy tales are also found within this book, but they have a slightly different twist. Sophie has a stepmother, but she’s not evil. Witches and wizards exist, but no one is really surprised or afraid of them. They are still respectful because they still no magic, but they don’t live alone out in the woods with dark rumors or legends surrounding them. In addition, Sophie has resigned herself to an uneventful life knowing that it’s the younger sisters who always get to go on adventures. Her expectations get turned on their head when the Witch of the Waste enters her shop though.
As with many popular stories, the main characters are by no means saints. However, it is pleasurable to watch these characters grow out of these flaws and change over the course of the book. Sophie begins with no self-confidence or really any positive image about herself. As she goes through more and more hardships, she begins to stand up for herself more and actually use the strength of character that she has. Meanwhile, Howl’s cowardice makes him run away from the trail of broken hearts that he’s left behind. Before the end of the book, he has to stand his ground and face what he’s wrought.
Howl’s Moving Castle is an excellent book. Unfortunately, explaining a lot of its excellence would reveal a great deal of the books plot. Nonetheless, I recommend it to anyone that is even remotely interested in it.