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
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.