Book Rating: ★★★★★ (5/5 stars)
Audio Book Rating: ★★★★☆ (4/5 stars)
Total Rating: ★★★★★ (5/5 stars)
Most people know Howl’s Moving Castle from the 2004 Miyazaki Film. While I was certainly aware of the movie, and had it on my “to-watch” list for many years, I actually had not watched it prior to reading this book. In retrospect, I am glad that I hadn’t, because it only made the book so much better – and much fresher.
Some people might disagree with me on this of course, but personally I liked the book way more than the movie, which is true with many stories, but I wanted to state that right away.
Don’t get me wrong, the movie is wonderful on its own. One recommendation I heard was to think of the book as Sophie’s point-of-view and the movie as Howl’s point-of-view, and that serves as a great analysis between the two.
The book, especially when narrated by Jenny Sterlin, shows a story of a whiny wizard who gets whipped into line by a young-turned-old woman who has little confidence in herself. Imagine a young man throwing fits over ever possible scenario, not the smooth “sexy” fellow represented by the movie (I mean, Christian Bale as Howl…come on!): this is the true Howl, and the Howl that Sophie sees.
A whimsical world follows Sophie through her adventures with Howl, Calcifer, Michael (whom Mikhal replaced in the movie), her sisters, a scary scarecrow, and a dog-man. The witch of the waste and her demon are sinister villains who haunt the landscape. It leaves much of the world to the reader’s imagination though: doors connecting to our world, steampunk elements flowing through the landscape, and bustling cities. No wonder Miyazaki took some creative liberty with airships and other technology, because there’s no reason those pieces of equipment couldn’t exist.
Dianna Wynne Jones creates a wonderful story that I didn’t want to put down (or, stop listening to) leaving hints along the way. In the end, all the pieces of the puzzle come together seamlessly, leaving no stone overturned in Sophie’s adventure to find herself.
I think what makes the book so much better than the movie is Sophie’s autonomy. Her jealousy of Howl with other girls is slowly building in the background, while she focuses on forcing herself into the life of the castle. While these elements of Sophie survive in the movie, many of her motivations are around protecting Howl…not others. Sophie is selfless and relentless, and the book is a jewel at showing thos.
So, if you look at the tale between these two lenses, you’ll enjoy both the book and the movie. For while the book is about Sophie, the movie is about Howl…and how he would ultimately see himself: a hero.
Although, that notion would just cause Sophie to laugh!
What’s it about?
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.