Rating: 4.5 out of 5
Today I’m bending the rules, because it’s the birthday of one of my best friends, Lily. Years ago, I recommended Diana Wynne Jones’ fantasy novel Howl’s Moving Castle to her, and now it’s one of her favorite stories. Although she currently lives in Tokyo and spends her free time reading in Japanese, I thought I would celebrate the book we shared together. I wouldn’t say it qualifies as a “masterpiece,” but it’s certainly an outstanding read.
Jones published her novel in 1986, and it tells the tale of Sophie Hatter, a young hat-maker who is cursed by the Witch of the Waste. After becoming displeased with Sophie’s hats, the witch turns her into an old woman.
Determined to break the curse, Sophie becomes the maid for the wizard Howl, a 28-year-old, self-centered, narcissistic man rumored to eat pretty girls’ hearts. Howl lives in his moving castle with his 15-year-old apprentice Michael and the fire demon Calcifer, who powers the place.
What makes Howl’s castle able to “move” is its magical entry, with a doorknob which has four dabs of paint to represent its different locations. Howl’s mysterious past and many psuedonyms allow him to travel through this fantastical world relatively unnoticed, that is until he must face his own cowardice and help Sophie destroy the Witch of the Waste.
This is a unique love story as well, given that although Howl is aware of Sophie’s curse, she lives with him as an old woman. Howl even initially courts Sophie’s sister Lettie. Not to mention, it takes a while for Sophie to look past Howl’s vanity and messiness and find the good within. But while I won’t give away the whole plot, don’t worry, there’s a happily ever after!
L-R: Sophie, Howl, and Calcifer
Once you’ve read Howl’s Moving Castle, you should watch Hayao Miyazaki’s 2004 anime feature film of the same name. I’ve mentioned the movie before when I discussed my favorite literary vacation destinations, and it is really worth the watch.
There are vast differences between the book and film, the biggest being Miyazaki’s inclusion of supernatural creatures. The film also added the element of war, with Howl refusing to fight for pacifist reasons. And although Sophie is cursed in the movie, the witch devolves into a humorous, harmless character rather than the powerful sorceress she is in the book.
According to interviews, Miyazaki did not consult Jones, but allowed her a private viewing, after which she called the film “fantastic.” However, do not mistake Jones’ sequel to Howl’s Moving Castle, called Castle in the Air, for another Miyazaki movie called “Castle in the Sky.” The two are entirely unrelated.
So if you’re interested in experiencing a fun, magical tale of love and friendship, I highly recommend Howl’s Moving Castle. It’s a story that brings close friends even closer–so happy birthday, Lily!!!