Howl’s Moving Castle by Diana Wynne Jones

All ages

Sophie Hatter is the eldest of three sisters, which, as anyone in the kingdom of Ingary knows, means that she is destined to fail if she decides to try seeking her fortune. So Sophie, remains at her father’s hat shop helping her stepmother keep the business going. That is, until she manages to offend the Witch of the Waste (though she doesn’t know how). As punishment Witch lays a curse on Sophie, turning her into an old woman. Unwilling to face her family, Sophie sets off. It isn’t long before she comes upon wicked Wizard Howl’s moving castle. Howl has made a reputation for capturing young girls and eating their hearts. But Sophie is an old woman, so she’s safe, right? In the castle, Sophie meets Calcifer, the fire demon that is responsible for most of the castle’s magic and Michael, Howl’s apprentice. Sophie strikes a bargain with Calcifer, he will free her from her curse if she can free him from his bargain with Howl. As she grows to know Howl and the two other occupants of his castle she finds that that everything is not as it seems. Not with Howl. Not with Calcifer. And most certainly, not with herself.

My first experience with Howl’s Moving Castle was actually through a friend who couldn’t believe that I hadn’t seen Miyazaki’s movie. Which is an awesome movie, by the way. I highly recommend it.

The book is ten times awesomer (Yes, I said “awesomer”).

Anyways, when I found out it was a book as well, of course I had to go buy it. And I’ve gotten my money’s worth. This is my third full reread–not counting all the times I’ve picked it up to reread my favorite parts.

There are some books that just seem to transcend age range. This book is slated for ages 9-12. I was eighteen when I first read it and I enjoyed it more than I have enjoyed many books. Howl’s Moving Castle is a book that will be just as much fun for the parents to read as for the kids. It’s written in the same style as Dealing with Dragons by Patricia C. Wrede (another awesome book). Full of wit, magic and mayhem. The humor is clean and timeless. Jones’ wording is chosen for the utmost impact both to the story and the enjoyment of the reader. I’ve started tweeting random sentences when I’m reading, I maybe tweeted a tenth of what I wanted to. Just reading the chapter titles is an experience in and of itself. This book will tickle your funny bone until you don’t think you can possibly laugh anymore.

There are some ways that this was definitely written for a younger audience. The plot is quick, there is no time for your attention to wander. Now don’t by any means think that it has a simple plot. This book has one of the most twisty plots that I have seen in a book for this age range. There is a lot packed into Howl’s 448 pages, so you have to pay attention or you’ll miss something. Also, the book’s short format makes every word important. The descriptions are brief. But they are also colorful and vivid. Jones establishes the world and then thoroughly immerses you in it. You can picture the streets of Kingsbury and the wharves of Porthaven in your head. Dialogue is quick and snappy, with one liners galore and each character’s voice distinct and entertaining.

The characters are constantly revealing new and different layers of themselves. When we first meet Sophie she seems quiet and timid. Used to talking her way out of situations meekly. She seems content to stay at the hat shop and determined to help her two younger sisters (who have much better chances at finding their fortunes). And then she gets cursed into her nineties and we get to see a little of Sophie’s real personality. She’s fiesty and fun and no longer afraid to speak the thoughts that have been entertaining for two chapters–even when it means standing up to a wicked wizard. Howl plays the flamboyant playboy, but (as anyone who reads Batman comics will know) there is much more to him than Sophie has heard in her little town of Market Chipping. These character’s are far from perfect (very far, in Howl’s case), but that’s part of what makes them so lovable. And what makes watching them grow so much fun.

This is one of those books that is just as great to read in bed on a rainy day (the sun will be shining inside, trust me) as it would be to listen in the car on a family trip. It’s wonderfully complicated and surprising. Even in my third read through, I was discovering new levels to both the characters and Jones’ handling of the plot. And I recommend it to anyone who wants to write. I always walk away from this book refreshed and inspired to write more.

This is a good example of:

  • Character development/story arc
  • Plot
  • Descriptions
  • Making every word count
  • Putting fun into your writing
This book is one my recommended reading list.