I have been wanting to re-read Howl’s Moving Castle pretty much since the day I finished it the first time, but I’ve been so busy reading all the books, that I haven’t gotten a chance. Then, I neglected to take a book with me when I was traveling a few weeks ago (I was traveling with a 6 month old and hanging out with my siblings… I didn’t think I’d have occasion to read and I needed to keep our bag under 50lbs). I did have a couple of moments here and there where having a book would have been nice - cue a hundred people clamoring at me to get a Kindle – and on the way home we had a 2+ hour layover, so we went into a book store and my wonderful and understanding husband told me to see if I could find a book to read. Lo, and behold! There was a copy of HMC and I grabbed it.
I didn’t actually get to read it until we got home, but then I devoured it in two days and had a blast reading it and remembering all the things I love about it. Last spring, I wrote a post about how I discovered Diana Wynne Jones and which of her books I’ve read, but I didn’t spend a lot of time actually talking about the books themselves. So, I thought I’d do a little review of Howl and his moving castle today… in case you’re at a loss for what to read next and think you might find yourself interested in something quirky and fun, with plenty of magic, and characters you will fall in love with in spite of their flaws.
Howl’s Moving Castle is a fantasy adventure like nothing you’ve ever read before. And since it is different from other books, I am going to review it differently as well. Instead of trying to write up a cohesive review, I am going to tell you 7 things I love about Howl’s Moving Castle:
1. Sophie. Sophie Hatter is not your typical quester, or princess, or damsel in distress. She’s the daughter of a hatter. And to make things worse, she’s the ELDEST daughter. This, as everyone knows, does not mean she can hope for much in the way of an exciting or prosperous future. Fairy-tales have rules, after all. And while Sophie is not particularly pleased by her fate, she accepts it stoically. But when Sophie is cursed by the Witch of the Waste to grow old before her time, it gives her the boost she needs to get out of the hat shop and do some extraordinary things in the hope that the evil Wizard Howl can help her remove the curse. However, she quickly finds that while being old has disadvantages (tiring more quickly), she also finds it brings advantages, such as not really needing to care what anyone thinks of her. And though she seems compliant and willing to accept her fate at first, Sophie has an iron will and she never does anything by halves.
2. The moving castle. One of the most entertaining aspects of this world is the moving castle itself. The castle may move about the moors, but its front door opens to several places. From the castle, the characters can exit into various towns, kingdoms, or even a different world altogether, and can be called-upon from those fixed places, as well. The castle itself seems large on the outside, but in reality is only a few small rooms on the inside (the opposite of normal British-sci-fi-engineering).
3. Calcifer. Calcifer is the creature made of flames who lives within the Castle’s hearth. He claims that he does all the work and is attempting to weasel his way out of a contract he made with the wizard Howl. He can’t say much about it, but he gets Sophie to promise to help him break the contract in return for his help breaking her own curse. Calcifer is snarky and intelligent, but though Sophie worries that he (and everything/one around Howl) is evil, she can’t help but notice that he doesn’t act evil or say evil things…
4. Upside-down fairy tale elements. I loved the incorporation of fairy-tale elements and themes throughout this story, though the book itself is not at all a fairy-tale retelling, but a completely original story set in a world where fairy tales and magic are commonplace and expected.
5. The humor! Well-done humor is something I love to find in a story, and this book has it by the armful. Even on a re-read, I found myself laughing out loud in many places.
6. The world-building. The realm is interesting and well-thought-out. It has this sort of 1700s British feel to it, but more whimsical and fairy-tale-esque.
7. Howl. Of course I can’t write about things in this book I love without mentioning the titular character himself. He is possibly the most obnoxious character I’ve ever read, but he also has a certain charm that is impossible to deny. Howl is not your typical fairy-tale hero. He’s not particularly courageous or dedicated or honest or dependable… well, he IS all of those things, but he tries very hard to pretend not to be. There are things that terrify him, and he’s willing to admit to that… so when he knows he is about to do something that scares him, he has to work hard to convince himself that he is NOT going to do that thing… it’s the only way he can muster up the courage to do it. In the end, he’s far more noble than he wants anyone to know… but he also comes with a spoiled-rotten sort of attitude and a penchant for throwing temper tantrums when things don’t go his way, and an ego that shouldn’t fit inside his castle… and it is amazing to me that such an abhorrent-sounding character can be so extremely appealing, but he is. Howl is exactly the sort of person you would never want to meet in real life… but he is a blast to read about.
Have you read this book? What did you think of it?