Even though movie adaptations of books tend to have a rather sour reception for the most part, their have been times where I’ve been driven to read a book because I did enjoy it’s film counterpart. In many cases, movies have served as an instant gateway for some of the books that I’d grow to love quite a bit. But it was just recently that I got around to reading Howl’s Moving Castle by Diana Wynne Jones, even though I’ve probably watched the anime movie adaptation from Hayao Miyazaki numerous times throughout my childhood. Howl’s Moving Castle has garnered an immense amount of attention over the years due to it being vastly adored in the fantasy genre, and also being recognized as one of the best animated works from Studio Ghibli. So going into this novel, I was quite excited and wanted to revisit this adventure in a different medium. To put it shortly, I thought it was a joy to read. The book delivered a fantastical adventure that’s bizarre, humorous, and made me see the story in a new way.
The story begins in Ingary, and it centers around Sophie Hatter, who resides in a town called Market Chipping. The introductory lines within the first page does an amazing job of instantly immersing you in the world that this book encapsulates, “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 three. Everyone knows you are the one who will fail first, and worst, if the three of you set out to seek your fortunes.” The opening passage makes us aware that the world of this book is teeming with magic, and gives us some insight into the life of our protagonist. Sophie, is unfortunately the oldest of the three children in her family, so she lives a more quite life with not as much prospects compared to her sisters, Lettie and Martha.
As Sophie spends her time creating hats at the hat shop in Market Chipping, a mysterious castle appears within close vicinity of where she lives. When the strange castle draws closer, she and the other citizens realize it’s the castle of the feared wizard, Howl, who has been rumored to have kidnapped and stolen the hearts of many girls. Initially, I thought Howl had like a weird collection of hearts stored in his castle. But as I continued reading, I discovered that Howl only stole hearts on an emotional level. Whenever a girl falls head over heels for him, he pretty much ignores them and leaves their hearts in a broken state. So while he might be a bit cold, he isn’t anywhere near as bad as the rumors make him out to be (which he spreads himself in order to maintain privacy).
Due to some misunderstanding (she was mistaken for someone else), Sophie gets cursed by the Witch of the Waste, a terrifying witch who got rejected by Howl in the past and is seeking vengeance. The curse turned Sophie into an elderly woman, so she leaves the hat shop and decides to go and live in the castle to serve as a housecleaner, with the goal of trying to break free from the curse. During her time there, she meets many people who come through the castle door, which can go to various different locations depending on which direction the knob is turned upon opening. Sophie gets acquainted with Howl’s young and obedient apprentice Michael, and Calcifer, a fire demon who promises to help Sophie erase her curse if she helps him get rid of the contract that he has with Howl.
The characters in Howl’s Moving Castle are very layered and never felt one-dimensional. Sophie is self-assertive, but tends to tackle a problem without thinking about the possible negative implications. While Howl is arrogant and somewhat self-centered. Calcifer is pretty strong, but he has a lot of restrictions on what he can or can’t do due to his pact with Howl. As you venture deeper into the novel, your overall view of the characters may change as well. The relationships and backstories between all of the characters get explored, and Sophie slowly does grow to like Howl despite initially hating him at first. I think this book overall highlights the importance of relationships. We might not necessarily like someone right off the bat, but we eventually realize that they may also have pleasant qualities deep down; first impressions don’t always give us the full picture of an individual.
All in all, if you are looking for a captivatingly whimsical tale full of multi-faceted characters, I’d highly recommend Howl’s Moving Castle. I haven’t gotten around to reading the two sequels, Castle in the Air, and House of Many Ways, but I’ll make sure to hunt those down in the future. Oh, and if you are immersing yourself into Studio Ghibli films for the very first time and plan on binge-watching, Howl’s Moving Castle would be amazing place to start even though the story in the movie is quite different from the book.