Thursday, December 30, 2010

Howl's Moving Castle: Diana Wynne Jones

An award-winning animé film called Howl's Moving Castle was released in 2004. Not being a fan of animé, I chose not to see the film, despite my piqued interest. It wasn't until last month when I found this copy of the middle readers novel that I realized the film was based on a book. Here was my chance to experience the story in a media I fully enjoy! Having absolutely no idea what the book was about, I toted it home and immediately cracked the cover.

To read Howl's Moving Castle you must suspend your adult need for disbelief and acknowledge that there might be places, times, planes of existence where magic exists and is a part of daily life. Sophie is the eldest of three sisters, and she is quite aware of what that means for her--doom. Every fairy tale ever told has made it perfectly clear that if the eldest of three sisters goes out to seek her fortune, she will be doomed. It is with this knowledge that Sophie resigns herself to a quiet life. Upon her father's death, Sophie and her sisters are sent to three different locations where they will be able to learn a trade and earn their keep. As expected, Sophie is kept on as an apprentice in the family hat shop. As she creates artful hats for the customers, Sophie entertains herself by talking to the hats (if you read the book you'll realize why this is an important note). After not so long, Sophie goes to visit her sisters and finds that they have swapped places (also important to the overall story). On the same day, she encounters the Witch of the Waste who casts a spell on Sophie, turning her into an old crone. Deciding not to return to the hat shop, Sophie wanders until she finds a great looming castle that moves about the countryside. Sophie soon meets the Wizard Howl and his apprentice, Michael, as well as the fire demon Calcifer, who all inhabit the moving castle. In no time at all, Sophie is embraced into the heart of their home and made a member of their quirky family. The adventures they have together and the characters they meet toss Howl and Sophie together until she finds that she loves the pompous wizard, in spite of his conceit. After a great battle with the Witch of the Waste, Sophie is finally able to make a choice for herself, regardless of her role as the eldest of three sisters.

Diana Wynne Jones has an extraordinary imagination. In every minute detail there is a hint of magic, bringing her story to life. While a castle that moves about the countryside at a leisurely pace seems entirely impossible, it takes no more than a chapter or two for the reader to completely accept that the door will never open to the same place twice. And while Howl is a conceited snot, Jones has also given him touches of sincerity and made him a likable character.

However, the most lovable character is the ever-present Calcifer. He has entered a contract with Howl and is now obligated to stay in the moving castle's fireplace. He essentially keeps the place running. For only being a flame, Calcifer has a wonderful personality. He is called a fire demon, so it seems like we're not supposed to like him, but he's actually the most enjoyable character in the book!

This was a delightful read that offered an escape similar to The Mysterious Benedict Society (a borrowed review since I read it before The Reader's Book Blog was a thing). Howl's Moving Castle is wondrous and exciting, at times surreal, but not entirely foreign. It was very exciting, but also very safe for readers of all ages.

Rating: $$

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