Review: Howl’s Moving Castle by Diana Wynne Jones

Howl's Moving Castle
What a charming book! I don’t know why I’m so obsessed with this book, but I am. My namesake is pretty awesome, the story is magical, and it just holds together so well. There’s also something incredible about an older book that’s risen to fame, and DWJ’s writing is so quirky and clever, her plot in this book creative but not too absurd… overall, very happy with what I just read!

Introduction

Sophie has the great misfortune of being the eldest of three daughters, destined to fail miserably should she ever leave home to seek her fate. But when she unwittingly attracts the ire of the Witch of the Waste, Sophie finds herself under a horrid spell that transforms her into an old lady. Her only chance at breaking it lies in the ever-moving castle in the hills: the Wizard Howl’s castle. To untangle the enchantment, Sophie must handle the heartless Howl, strike a bargain with a fire demon, and meet the Witch of the Waste head-on. Along the way, she discovers that there’s far more to Howl — and herself — than first meets the eye.

Discussion

I watched Miyazaki’s movie adaptation of this book a long time ago, and although I don’t remember much about it aside from the usual brilliance of Miyazaki films, I do remember that the movie is actually quite different plot-wise from the book version. I might be biased when I say that I like the book version better, simply because there’s more of a fairy tale theme and more room for me to imagine the characters and settings to my liking.

PROTAGONIST: Sophie’s growth in confidence is wonderful to watch. As a character, Sophie didn’t start out very strongly because of her own assumptions of her place in the world. We get a sense of how much of a doormat she is when we see her from her sisters’ perspectives, even if Sophie herself didn’t realize that aspect of her personality. However, as she faces the numerous obstacles in the book, Sophie starts becoming more confident and spunky, and the more obstacles she faces, the better she is at tackling them in her no-nonsense, sensible manner.

CHARACTERS: So many likable characters and character interactions! That’s one thing missing from the movie version – supporting characters that stand out. And the book version has tons of those! For example, Sophie’s sisters are smart and assertive, and there’s a sub-plottish thing involving them that I really enjoyed. Although the reader’s perspective is very Sophie-centric, other characters’ relationships with each other are also well-developed, and it’s interesting to see what each character’s backstory is. But spiteful Calcifer, the fire demon, is still my favorite!

PLOT: The plot is quiet but exciting, slow but fast. There are questions raised right off the bat – such as, why did Sophie attract the Witch of the Waste’s attention? – that don’t get answered until the end of the book. However, DWJ gives very subtle hints throughout the story for why everything happens the way it happens, and I like how it made me think a little but didn’t give me a headache. The pacing varies between a content, steady pace for the majority of the book to a faster pace nearing the climax. I never got bored, simply because there’s always an unanswered question or a new unusual event.

HUMOR: Yes! Occasionally, the storyline itself is funny in terms of how exaggerated certain events become, and sometimes the characters contribute to the humor as well. It doesn’t happen often, but there’s enough of it that adds to the book’s charm. Also, this Tumblr post is TOO TRUE.

Conclusion

Howl’s Moving Castle is full of fun characters, interesting magic and fairy tale traditions, and wonderful settings, all tied together in a complex and captivating plot. There’s a simplicity to the writing that makes it easy to digest for middle grade readers, but for older readers, this book can still be an enchanting read.

Have you read or watched Howl’s Moving Castle?

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7 thoughts on “Review: Howl’s Moving Castle by Diana Wynne Jones

  1. What, this book is so happy! I really enjoyed reading it… I’m assuming you’ve read the two loose sequels as well? I think my favorite DWJ books so far are ‘Deep Magic’ and ‘The Merlin Conspiracy’ (loosely connected to each other), but Howl’s Moving Castle is right up there as well. Her dialogue is just SO. MUCH. FUN.

    • Agreed! I was definitely pleasantly surprised by DWJ’s writing style. (As in, WHY HAVEN’T I READ HER BOOKS EARLIER??) I haven’t read the sequels yet – I have Castle in the Air, so I have to get to that one soon!

      I just read the Goodreads synopsis for Deep Magic… it sounds interesting (but vague?); ahhhh I’m totally into fun dialogues! 😊

      • I felt the same way about DWJ – I only started reading her books within the last couple of years. Some of them, honestly, make NO SENSE to me, but I still find them completely engrossing every time! I really enjoyed the Chrestomanci books as well – they’re just sort of loosely connected, but take place in the same world, which seems to be her favorite way to do “sequels.”

    • Ooh, hope you’ll get a chance to read this one then, Katie! 😀 I’m always a little wary of movies adapted from books (and vice versa) for fear of too many differences, but it worked for both the book and the movie in this case.

  2. When I first watched Howl’s Moving Castle I had no idea that it was based on a book. I was just watching one movie after the other from Studio Ghibli and admiring their charm. After your review, I’m pretty sure I will pick up the book in future some time as well. Perhaps rewatch the movie after to get a sense of how they line up and how they’re different.

    • I actually heard of the book before the movie (even though I love Studio Ghibli films too!) from my library-browsing days in high school, haha. It might be kind of shallow of me, but I stayed away from Diana Wynne Jones at that point because the covers seemed too childish. 😅 Boy, was that a mistake! But yeah, it was fun comparing the book with the movie – let me know when you get to this one! I’ll have to rewatch the movie at some point too, heehee.

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