When we were kids, my older sister loved anime, and I’ll be honest I wasn’t much of a fan. But I do remember losing a bet and having to watch an anime movie with her – and I wasn’t allowed to read while “watching” the movie. It ended up being a family movie night and we watched Howl’s Moving Castle, and I absolutely loved it – I thought it was interesting and a visually awesome film. As a general rule, that is still the only anime I have really watched. I never read the book as a teenager because I didn’t know it existed until about five years ago! I was a little wary about reading it, because I enjoyed the film. Anyway, after how much I loved Stardust, despite loving the film, I bought Howl’s Moving Castle by Diana Wynn Jones and I loved it.
Sophie is the eldest of three sisters in a world where magic and seven league boots exist. As the eldest, she knows she will fail should she ever decide to see her fortune, and is content with preparing her youngest sister Martha for the role. Sophie works in her father’s hat shop, making hats for the ladies of her small town, and talking to the hats while she works. When Sophie unwittingly brings the ire of the evil Witch of the Waste upon her head, she finds herself under a horrible curse that turns her into an old lady. She sets off into the night, and stumbles upon the roaming black castle of the Wizard Howl. There she enters into a bargain with the fire demon Calcifer to end his contract with Howl, and becomes Howl and his apprentice (Michael’s) worst nightmare in her efficient decision to clean the “castle”. Sophie must learn to handle the heartless Howl, and meet the Witch of the Waste to end her curse, learning a lot about herself, and about Howl and her family, in the process.
A lot of the book wasn’t put in the movie, understandably, because it wouldn’t translate well from page to screen. And in the same vein as Stardust, the book was as equal but different to the movie. The book is infinitely more complex than the movie, and infinitely interesting. At the start, Sophie is very timid, and trapped in her boring role as the eldest child, so after she is cursed, Sophie relishes being an old person because she basically is so done with the world that she enjoys being able to say whatever she thinks and getting away with it because she is “old”. She places a lot of power on what the stories say about it always being the youngest of three who has power and adventures, never the oldest, and grumbles about how it shouldn’t count as an adventure.
Howl is a very spoilt child, obsessed with his looks and with his own very peculiar way of showing that he cares. Michael is adorable, and Calcifer is amusing. There is also a man-dog and witches apprentices and it’s all quite amusing. Especially because things are explained in circular ways that don’t make sense, making the world seem even more bizarre and fantastical than before until you’ve spiralled down a bright colourful hole where scarecrows can come to life and chase a roaming castle, or there are boots that can take miles into a single step, where magic is wild and the wielders are wilder.
It’s hard to explain exactly why I loved this book, but I did – it is that perfect blend of fantastical and nonsense for me to feel like it deserves accolades and to be put on a list to read to all and any children I might have the misfortune to babysit. It is beautifully written and so amazingly imaginative and humorous. It is a high fantasy children’s book, but it is one of those children’s book that appeal to every age group, that they will all find something for them.
I recommend this book to everyone! It’s wonderful. That is all.