Friday, February 22, 2013

Audio Book and Movie Review: Howl's Moving Castle by Diana Wynne Jones

Title: Howl's Moving Castle 

Author: Diana Wynne Jones

Rating: 4 Stars

At least no one can accuse me of not having read this book now. Howl's Moving Castle is probably the single most popular piece of children's fantasy, right after Harry Potter of course. I've heard endless praise for this series ever since it was first released but, for some reason or the other, I was never drawn to it. It seemed charming, but not much else. Well, as I expected, Jones's story is a charming, cute, and fun adventure novel with just the right amount of depth to be considered prevalent, but also subtle. All in all, it both was and wasn't what I was expecting, but although I enjoyed it, I know for a fact that I won't be calling myself a fan of Diana Wynne Jones - or this series - any time soon.

One of the best things about Howl's Moving Castle is, hands-down, its protagonist. Sophie is the eldest of three sisters, left to work in her father's hat store after he passes away. Unlike the usual step-mothers we are used to, hers is kind, treating her three daughter equally, despite the fact that only one is hers by blood. While Sophie slaves away in a hat store, her two younger sisters depart on their own, one to be the apprentice of a witch and another to make an advantageous marriage. Quite unexpectedly, though, the Witch of the Waste, a wicked witch that the people of Sophie's town fear, even more than the mysterious Wizard Howl who eats the souls of young girls, arrives in Sophie's shop and turns her into an old woman. Now, desperate to turn herself back into the young girl she is, Sophie leaves her hat shop, only to stumble upon the moving castle of Wizard Howl himself and strike up a bargain with his fire demon, one that will change her life forever.

Needless to say, Howl's Moving Castle is a richly imagined fantasy story. Jones has created a world that is a-plenty both in politics and magic, making for a riveting read. Furthermore, the majority of the novel takes place in the moving castle of Wizard Howl himself. Howl is, quite possibly, my favorite character of the tale. As with all realistic characters, he is deeply flawed, proving to be vain, immature, and often irritating. Yet, beneath all that, he is clever, witty, and has a kind heart. Sophie, as a strong-willed heroine, knows exactly what buttons to push to get Howl riled and vice versa. Although their dynamic is unique due to the fact that Sophie is an old woman, their interactions are no less amusing or intelligent for it.

In addition to Howl and Sophie, though, the cast of secondary characters in this story plays an important role as well. Jones weaves together multiple plot lines, alluding to them in the beginning and slowly bringing them all together. At times, the plot can be hard to follow with so much going on, but it keeps you flipping the pages constantly. As an audio book, Howl's Moving Castle is one of the better ones. Although I will fault the narrator for making Howl's voice a bit too much like her own at times, she brilliantly read through this book, making me laugh out loud on more than one occasion. I did switch to an actual copy of the novel during the middle, simply because the middle does tend to drag a little and with the book, I could both read faster and skim when necessary, but either than that, the audio book was a perfect way to read this.

For all its positive points, though, I must admit to not understanding why Howl's Moving Castle receives the hype it does. Granted, it's a very well-written novel that is a great deal of fun, but it hardly warrants the numerous gushing reviews it receives. Jones does a splendid job of exploring the theme of illusion and personality; of seeing whether Sophie's appearance deters from her vivacious personality, but many other books do this as well. (Just take Frances Hardinge's A Face Like Glass for example, which is additionally MG but seems to tackle this theme with more creativity, talent, and depth). Howl's Moving Castle is a fantasy adventure I would not hesitate to recommend to any lover of good fiction, just don't go into it expected to be as blown away as the hype suggests you should be. Perhaps the movie is what gives this series the large fan following it has. I'll watch it and let you know.

Title: Howl's Moving Castle 

Director: Hayao Miyazaki 

Rating: 5 Stars

Now that's more like it! As a film, Howl's Moving Castle is everything its hype said it would be...and more! One of the main reasons I always find book-to-movie adaptations to be lacking, or inferior to their book halves, is because directors make it a point to follow the book word-for-word, plot-for-plot and then they skip an incident and the entire movie is ruined. Howl's Moving Castle the film couldn't be more different from the book if it tried, though.

Although both plot lines have the same idea of a girl, Sophie, who gets turned into an old woman, Miyazaki's rendition of the tale is infinitely darker. Jones has written a story that can only be described as charming. It's funny, witty, and great to spend a few leisure hours of time with. Yet, it can also be boring, its villain rather two-dimensional, and it never veers off the border of light/fluffy fun. Miyazaki's film version, however, casts its villain in a more three-dimensional light, putting more emphasis on both the romance element and the darker aspects of this story, which, in my eyes, only improved an already excellent idea and plot line.

In Miyazaki's Howl's Moving Castle, the country that Sophie lives in is in the midst of a war. As such, instead of a frantic scrambling to undo wicked charms that have been set upon a variety of characters, there is a more serious matter of preventing war. Howl, too, is less of the bumbling, vain fool we've come to love in the books but rather an enigmatic mystery with a curse and dark secret of his own. Although Miyazaki's film rendition lost the original - and subtle - love story that Jones created, opting for a more typical "Beauty and the Beast" type of tale, I thoroughly enjoyed it.
All in all, even if you don't plan to read Jones's acclaimed novel, DO invest in the two hours that this film takes. It is beautifully drawn, marvelously scripted, and has made me realize the true hype surrounding this tale. Granted, I did miss a few elements from the novel in the movie - and both are VERY different, with only a handful of similarities - but I think it's safe to say that I'm in love with the movie far more than I am with the book. Do take note of this - it's probably the first and only time I'll find a movie to be superior to the novel. Needless to say, I need to check out Miyazaki's other films at once!


  1. I was never drawn to this either, despite the endless praise, but I'm glad to see that you enjoyed it. I'll have to give in one day and meet How and Sophie for myself. Both sound like great characters. I'm thrilled to hear that the film is worth watching, too. Great reviews, Keertana! :)

  2. I never really realised this was a book, since I watched the film as a child and absolutely fell head over heels in love with it. I really need to invest in my own copy so I'm thrilled to know you enjoyed it so much and now I certainly want to sit and watch it again.

    I simply adore the film and always just left it at that. I'm glad you managed to enjoy the book, but I think I'd spoil my love of the film if it's different by reading the book. I liked the darkness of the film.

    Brilliant review, dearest! :)

  3. It's interesting that the film surpassed the book for you in this case. Usually it's the other way around. I always feel obligated to pick up one of Diana's novel since Maggie Stiefvater always sings their praises and I love her work. Great reviews. I'll consider watching this film. :)

  4. I am so curious to make the film and book comparisons myself now! I've seen Miyazaki's version a few times now and really like it (I even got my little sister to watch it with me and she loves it too!), but I have heard it's quite different from the book. I've never been under the impression that the book is really that well known and respected. Few of my friends, if any, have read it and I've read fantasy all my life and never really heard too much about it, more about the author herself. I am not sure how much I'll enjoy the book (especially since I recently read and wasn't a fan of her Fire and Hemlock) but I am willing to try it out. It does sound like something every fantasy lover should read at least once.

  5. So funny, I have this on audio too. I adored the film version when I was a kid and had no idea at the time that this was such a beloved book. I think your reaction to the book is about what I expect when I finally do give it a listen. I'm not super excited about it, but I feel obligated to check it off the "must read if you like YA/kid lit" list.

    More than anything though, your review is giving me serious nostalgia for the movie. I need to Netflix it and re-watch. Great review!

  6. Great review, and I'm so glad you mentioned the Studio Ghibli animation. I haven't read the book but love the movie.

  7. I have not seen this movie all the way through in one sitting. I didn't try the book because it was MG, but really I might have to try it. It would be perfect for some people I know! :) I know what you mean about the hype and I do try to ignore those things when I read those kind of books. That way I'm not too disappointed. :) Great 2 for 1 reviews! :)

  8. Brilliant review, Keertana! I'm really glad you enjoyed this. Like you, despite the endless praise, I was never really all that interested. But after reading your review I have changed my mind! I really want to meet Sophie now, she sounds like a wonderful protag.

    Thanks so much for sharing this post with us! :)

  9. I've watched the movie, and it was hands down fantastic, to be completely honest. So I'm glad that you loved it as well! I just loved everything about it, but it's a bit surprising that this isn't a lot like the book. However, since that's how it is with most book-to-movie adaptions, I suppose I shouldn't be surprised. But it's interesting to see that you enjoyed the movie more in this case. Because of that, I think I'll have to pass up on the book, even if you gave it 4 stars and liked most aspects of it. I'd rather just enjoy the movie without the book ruining my image and thoughts of the movie.

    Fabulous reviews as always, Keertana! <3

  10. I have never heard of either so what a fail for me! I will need to read the book and watch the movie!

  11. Great, so now I'm the only one who hasn't read this. You've left me all alone.
    The conbination of politics and magic is something I just can't resist, though. Adding this to my tbr.

  12. Watch Spirited Away and Princess Mononoke! You will not be disappointed. I just need to see My Neighbor Totoro.

    I'm glad you enjoyed both the book and the movie. I'm a huge fan of both, but I'm actually the exact opposite of you. While I LOVE the movie, I prefer the book and intend to read the entire series. Maybe it's because I did things in a reverse order? I watched the movie many times before I ever picked up the book. I have no idea, but I loved your glowing reviews regardless! I'm glad you've discovered the wonder of Howl's Moving Castle! :D

  13. I feel like we had opposite reactions to these two. I kind of expected to love the movie (I love Miyazaki in general), but was pretty disappointed in it and didn't understand the hype/why so many people call it their favorite of his, and I really didn't know much about the book going in but LOVED it. I can certainly understand how certain readers either will or will not connect with DWJ's writing. If you didn't love her style in HMC, I wouldn't bother reading her other stuff tbqh. STILL glad you finally read it, even though I'm sad you were disappointed.


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