Title: Howl’s Moving Castle
Author: Diana Wynne Jones
I’m not much of an anime fan. I’ve avoided seeing any movies in that genre. I have nothing against it, I swear, I just don’t want to get sucked into another genre and fandom, but another friend suggested How’s Moving Castle to me and I thought, “Why not?” And you know what? I just fell in love with the movie. But this review isn’t about the movie, though I will reference it a few times, it’s about the book. There will be spoiler – fair warning.
Howl’s Moving Castle follows the story of an 18-year-old girl name Sophie who works with her family in a hat shop in Market Chirping. Being the eldest, Sophie isn’t expected to do anything with her life, and she’s accepted that. Her younger sisters leave home to find their own work and fortune in the world – hoping to be married at some point.
After an unfortunate run in with the Witch of the Waste, Sophie is cursed to old age. She seeks out Howl, a wizard, to try to break her curse, and gets pulled into the life of Howl, the fire demon Calcifer, and Howl’s assistant Michael as they try to find a way to defeat the Witch, though Howl would rather avoid the conflict entirely.
Between the movie and the book, I think I preferred the movie better. The book, while good, kind of went all over the place and I had trouble following plot points.
- Sophie first tries to deal with her curse, but then her sisters use magic to switch their physical appearance so that they could do the work they wanted to do, and then Howl tries to get one of the sisters to fall in love with him (he’s got a problem with chasing after girls but dumping them once they fall in love with him, which is why people in Sophie’s town tell the girls that Howl eats their heart so that they stay away from him). Michael falls in love with the other sister.
- This scarecrow comes into play wanting to get into the castle for a reason but Sophie doesn’t like him very much.
- Sophie is then sent to another witch and the king to tell them that Howl is a bad person and cannot find the lost prince in that world.
- She then sees where Howl grew up which is in Wales in our world (which I kind of found really odd – it just didn’t seem to fit).
- The Witch who cursed Sophie and Howl have a fight in the sky.
- Michael does a lot of spells, another curse is involved, Sophie tries to figure out how to end Calcifer’s contract with Howl, Howl ends up buying the hat shop and turning it into a flower shop, and the ultimate climax with the Witch of the Waste was kind of a let down, and there was even a twist that had me more confused then surprised.
This book was just all over the place. The movie, while different, was a bit tighter and easier to follow (even with a few confusing moments, but less confusing moments).
Though while I wasn’t a fan of the overall story, I did love the characters which was the main reason that kept me reading. I loved this gang inside the moving castle, especially Howl and Sophie and how they banter and argue with each other. That, I could honestly read forever. But at the end, they fall in love? That confused me and I know she grows to love him in the movie, which was clearer than in the book, but it felt like this last minute thing that was thrown in when Howl hadn’t really changed at all or shown any affection or interest in Sophie at all. I could see them falling in love, but maybe not at that moment.
In the movie, there were several instances where Sophie changed back into her younger self (which wasn’t really explained why or how) but in the book, Sophie remained an old woman till her curse broke at the end. Honestly, I just loved her as an old woman. She was just so chill about the whole thing – after she has a bit of a freak out over it of course. She quickly accepts this new self of hers, making the most out of it rather than always complaining about it and doing nothing to fix it. Sophie’s a great protagonist! She’s not perfect, has a good heart, cares about people even if they are bad, and makes her own mistakes along the way even if she thinks she’s making things better. I admire her and her ability to tolerate Howl – though she has her breaking moments.
Howl is…a lot worse in the book than in the movie. He’s a coward, a heartbreaker, a bit selfish, and a complete drama queen. No over exaggeration there. He has his good moments, but I wouldn’t be surprised if people disliked him. Again, I loved the banter between him and Sophie, but he’s such a frustrating character, that I was as angry with him as Sophie was at times. He’s definitely memorable. You can’t exactly forget about him.
I wish the conflict was a bit bigger. There was maybe one moment where I was clutching my phone (read the Kindle version) because the Witch decided to go after one of Howl’s family members, but other than that, she’s pretty dull. Her whole goal was to make a perfect wizard using the body pieces of the lost prince, another wizard that had gone missing, and then ultimately Howl himself (which is honestly really creepy), but this wasn’t explained till the very end.
In the movie, all she wanted was Howl’s heart, and there was a moment where she wouldn’t give it up to Sophie to save Howl, and I was drawn more to that than the book’s ending, where Sophie goes to the Witch to rescue Howl’s newest lover girl, but the Witch is taken down quickly by the scarecrow and Howl. There was no moment of “Oh, she’s going to kill Howl! Oh no, she’s got Sophie trapped, completely unable to free herself to try to save Howl!” It was a tad confusing and then the second part of the climax hit, and again, it wasn’t that great. It started out good (don’t want to give everything away) but it quickly fell downhill and the ending was a rush, like “And at last, the villains were defeated and everyone was well. The end.” Could’ve used more of a resolution and I had more unanswered questions!
I didn’t love the story, but I loved the characters. I’m glad I read it, and I’ll definitely continue to re-watch the movie. Maybe I’ll pick up the book again in a few years and give it another read.