Howl's Moving Castle by Diana Wynne Jones

by Charlotte Force

Author: Diana Wynne Jones

Genre: Fantasy, Adventure, Romance

Rating: 7/10

“In the land of Ingary where such things as seven-league boots and cloaks of invisibility really exist, it is quite a misfortune to be born the eldest of the three. Everyone knows you are the one who will fail first, and worst, if the three of you set out to seek your fortunes.”       

Never again will I regard fireplaces in the same way. They are no longer simply there to roast chestnuts and provide light for reading – now, fireplaces are all named Calcifer. They have the power to move castles, warm baths, break curses, and warm hearts.

The Book unto Itself

Sophie Hatter and Wizard Howl are beautifully flawed characters. You learn to love them as they learn to love each other, in this winding, fantastical fairy tale. Howl is a hopeless ladies-man who stubbornly evades commitments (as Sophie puts it, he’s a “slither-outer”), and Sophie

In the land of Ingary, where the novel is set, it is well-known that the eldest child of any family is destined to a dull life at home, and to never make their fortune. Our protagonist, Sophie, is the eldest of three sisters and quite resigned to that fate. She quite believes she is not meant for any sort of greatness, which transforms all of her character traits into faults or limitations. Her intelligence becomes dissatisfaction, her courage becomes idiocy, her determination becomes stubbornness, and she hides her beauty behind drear dresses and grey cloaks.

Sophie doesn’t get out much – she begins an apprenticeship at her family’s hat shop, and eventually spends all of her time in the back, sewing hats day after day after day. She doesn’t see her talent, and the success of her hats in her hometown of Market Chipping  – all she sees is the dismal, every day drudgery of the life she leads. Sophie gradually fades until one day, for a reason unbeknownst to her, the wickedest witch of all of Ingary comes into the hat shop and transforms her into an old woman.

This is the moment that flips Sophie’s life on its head. The many events throughout the book after this metamorphosis are a series of discoveries that change Sophie into the woman she’s meant to be. The first discoveries are small: a moving Castle, a fire named Calcifer, and a wizard’s apprentice named Michael. Soon enough, Sophie is meeting new people every day, from a capricious wizard named Howl, to old fisherman, to the King of Ingary, to an animated scarecrow, to Ms. Pentstemmon - Howl’s old professor of Magic. She visits the town of Porthaven, the capital Kingsbury, and a mysterious land called “Wales”. As she discovers these people and places outside of herself, Sophie slowly discovers something inside of herself: self-love, and self-respect. These themes of mystery and discovery are what drive book and make Howl’s Moving Castle a veritable enchantment of a novel.


The Book vs. The Movie

Most people know Wizard Howl, Calcifer, and Sophie Hatter from Hayao Miyazaki’s movie Howl’s Moving Castle, but that fantastical adventure did not spring forth out of nowhere. The movie is a loose adaptation of the book of the same name by Diana Wynne Jones (mostly of events in the first half of the book). Ingary is a billowing whirl of colour and industry in both adaptations, but there is a grit and imperfection to the characters of the novel that the movie characters lack. There are other differences: Sophie’s hair is not brown in the book – in fact, it matches Howl’s ever-changing hair at one point. Michael is not a little boy, as depicted in the movies – however, he does have a cloak that gives him the appearance of a man. Sophie does not immediately befriend scarecrow – she and it have quite an interesting relationship. It was these little differences that I relished: they took away from neither the book, nor the movie. They just made each experience a little richer, and a little more magical. Worry not if you’ve seen the movie and fear it will ruin the book – certain elements are beautifully brought to life in the movie, including the interior of Howl’s castle, the field of flowers on the edge of the Waste, and the characters themselves. Nevertheless, the book and movie diverge more than they converge, and in reality feed into each other and make for an even better experience.