- Original Publication Date: April 1986
- Next book: Castle in the Air (1990)
- Fiction, fantasy, fairy tale, young adult, World of Howl series
- Warnings: If you’re not a fan of slow paced books this probably isn’t the best read for you.
“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.”
The first time I was exposed to Howl’s Moving Castle was through the movie based on the book by the famous Japanese animation director Hayao Miyazaki. I really liked the movie so, for me at least, if I like a movie based on a book, I usually like the book. Things weren’t that simple with my experience with Howl’s Moving Castle though. For those of you who have seen the movie, it takes inspiration from Diana Wynne Jones‘s story, but then kind of goes on Miyazaki’s typical “the consequences of war and human greed” direction, basically making an entirely different plot and ending from the book.
In the book, the main character, Sophie Hatter, is the eldest of three daughters. For some reason, that means as the eldest daughter of three, Sophie is expected to have the least eventful and least fulfilling life while her two younger siblings (in the movie she only had one) have more opportunities for adventure, finer things, and even finding a husband. (Apparently that’s just how things work in their world.) Because she was already resigned to a pretty dull life to begin with, when she is cursed into being an old woman by a wicked witch, she barely freaks out and decides to run away so her family doesn’t see her as an old woman.
Honestly, Sophie, as portrayed in the book, is my least favorite character. She comes off as really one-dimensional and not very relatable (yes, she’s been turned into an old lady but old ladies can be relatable too). There were many moments where I found myself shaking my head and rolling my eyes at some of her antics that seemed to cause more trouble than help where she would blame it on being the eldest. There was one part of the book where she was finally called out on it:
“I’m the eldest!” Sophie shrieked. “I’m a failure!”
“Garbage!” Howl shouted. “You just never stop to think!”
(Thank you “book” Howl. Thank you.)
The pacing of the book is somewhat slow so I expected a significant amount of character development to happen, but even towards the end, Sophie continuously seemed to be in this “I’m the eldest daughter and therefore my life will be dull and drab forever” mentality. Um…hello? You live with a handsome (but admittedly vain) wizard, his young apprentice, you’re basically friends with a fire demon with the ability to move a magical castle, and…oh, right, you can talk to inanimate objects and give them “life” because you yourself are a witch (which apparently “movie” Sophie is not). It was just really hard to root for “book” Sophie, especially when her self-deprecating personality didn’t disappear until some guy recognized her worth. “Movie” Sophie at least had sassy comebacks and other slightly redeeming qualities and moments throughout that weren’t necessarily based on a guy’s opinion of her.
I did like how the book gave more background on Howl (and a few other key characters as well) that the movie didn’t really show. It wasn’t as much as I would have liked but, eh, beggars can’t be choosers. I do wish at least part of the book was told from Howl’s perspective, at least in terms of his initial thoughts about Sophie and also just about his life in general. (I thought “movie” Howl was interesting to try to psychoanalyze but “book” Howl has him beat.)
Despite how I felt about “book” Sophie, Howl’s Moving Castle (the book) does take place in a really wonderful and magical world. I really like the relationship between Howl and his fire demon, Calcifer, that is shown in the book and how closely they are connected, something that is not as obvious to see in the movie.
If you have only seen the movie, I recommend reading the book – despite my dislike for “book” Sophie – merely to compare and contrast the characters that are in both and perhaps even add an extra layer of understanding to them. If you have not seen the movie, I would actually recommend reading the book first and then watching the movie. As I’m writing this, I’m also playing the movie and there’s some things in the movie that I never really noticed before despite watching it many times before.
To put it simply, in regards to the book, I dislike Sophie but I like the background information and world building that Jones created and for the movie, I like Sophie’s and Howl’s relationship (I mean, I’m a sucker for Miyazaki’s romances) but dislike how complicated and convoluted the plot sometimes get.
Overall, the world that Howl’s Moving Castle takes place in – book or movie – is an interesting one. Though some of the characters in the book seemed flat, Diana Wynne Jones’s writing style still made me want to keep reading – which in my opinion is sometimes better than having likable characters – and even now, I want to read the rest of the books in the series to see how the characters develop (hopefully).
What do you all think? Have you read Howl’s Moving Castle already? Have any other book suggestions that I should add to my Saturday Reading List? Leave your thoughts behind in the comments. Just be respectful please or else…