7 Things I Love About Howl’s Moving Castle

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?

~ jenelle

23 Comments

Deborah O'Carroll

YES TO ALL THE THINGS. :D Although despite knowing in theory that Howl is kind of terrible, I love him to bits anyway and am a bit less reasonable about him than you. XD Otherwise, YES. I love your review and that’s awesome you got to re-read it! :D The humor and Howl and Sophie and Calcifer and the fairytale things ARE ALL AMAZING. ^_^ People talking about loving this book makes me SO happy. :D :D :D <3

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jenelle

I love Howl to bits, as well. I was just realizing as I was trying to describe him that he SOUNDS kind of horrible, also, I was reading an interview with DWJ at the end of the book about how she was so amused and sort of horrified that so many people read the book and end up wanting to marry Howl… it was entertaining.

I was also trying not to give spoilers… which is harder with some books than others. LOL

Yes, I enjoy book discussions. And Calcifer is my favorite!!!!

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Florid Swird

This book. I love it. I love it so much and Howl in particular k? Arghhhhh now I need to buy this book!!

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Abbey Stellingwerff

Howl’s Moving Castle is one of my favorite books for all of the reasons you mentioned! I love how quirky it is. There’s nothing like Diana Wynne Jones if you’re looking for something unique. Another thing I love about HMC are the chapter titles! My favorite is “In Which Sophie Expresses her Feelings with Weed Killer” (though my favorite chapter in the book is “In Which Sophie Leaves the Castle in Several Directions At Once”).

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sarahtps

Alkdjflskdjlksdfjflk;sd THIS BOOK. It was my first taste of Diana Wynne Jones and it’s the absolute BEST thing by her I’ve ever read, plus it’s better than a lot of books I’ve read by other people. I completely agree with everything you said, though I, like Deborah, am a bit less rational about Howl than you are. I mean, I know in the back of my mind that, as you said, he’d probably drive me crazy or else rather overawe/terrify me in real life, but he’s also *almost* one of my favorite character archetypes and yet not *quite* and he is that in a way that I absolutely love, so . . . yes. Also, the ending is perfect, and “I think we ought to live happily ever after” makes me unreasonably happy.

Have you read the sequels? (I’m going to guess you have; I think most DWJ fans would’ve? Though I could be wrong.) If you’ve read them, what did you think of them?

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jenelle

Heheh, well, Charmed Life was my first DWJ book, and so I think I may be slightly partially biased towards Chrestomanci as a result. Howl is FABULOUS, but I’d rather hang out with Chrestomanci, if I absolutely HAD to choose.

The ending is perfect! There are definitely more than 7 things I love about this book… but I was attempting to steer away from spoilers in the actual write-up… just in case anyone hasn’t stumbled across this gem yet.

I have read the sequels… though there were a few years between reading HMC and Castle in the Air… and then another year or two before I read House of Many Ways… because I had NO idea there were sequels. It wasn’t until recently that I even realized that DWJ has this huge catalog of books I’ve never even heard of! I read all of her books the library had when I was in jr. high/high school (which consisted mostly of the Chrestomanci books, but did not include Conrad’s Fate), and then kind of assumed that was all there was… it was extremely delightful when I discovered about a year or two ago just how wrong that assumption had been! So many DWJ books left to read!!!!

I liked both the sequels, though I think I enjoyed House of Many Ways a bit more… I need to re-read both of them… I really liked Charmaine a lot, so she made HMW tons of fun!

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sarahtps

Chrestomanci is also awesome. *nods* He and his series are probably my second favorite DWJ thing. And I think Chrestomanci would be rather easier than Howl to get along with.

Makes sense. Avoiding spoilers is haaaaaaard sometimes . . .

I know! I’ve read a fair number, but I know there’s still dozens more that I could read . . . she was an astoundingly prolific and varied author, from what I can tell.

House of Many Ways is awesome. Of course, I’m biased towards anything with a bookworm protagonist . . . plus the titular house is quite cool. And it has more Howl and Sophie than Castles in the Air does.

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Tracey Dyck

HMC is the only DWJ book I’ve read so far, but I loved it to pieces! Your review is making me want to reread it too! Howl is hands-down the reason I adore it, but all the other parts you mentioned are delightful as well. I still need to find the sequels somewhere… Speaking of which, where do you recommend going from there? Which of her books should I read after the two sequels?

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jenelle

It is so good!

Hmmm, well, I would definitely recommend the Chrestomanci Chronicles. You can start just about anywhere… the first DWJ book I ever read was Charmed Life, and it’s my FAVORITE… and it was the first book she wrote in that series, even though chronologically it falls in the middle.

If you want to read them chronologically according to the timeline within the world (rather than by publication date), then start with The Lives of Christopher Chant, followed by Conrad’s Fate, then you can read either Charmed Life or Witch Week (nobody’s sure where Witch Week falls, as it takes place in a parallel universe and Chrestomanci is the only overlapping character). Magicians of Caprona, and The Pinhoe Egg. (Apparently there are some novelettes and short stories in there as well, but I haven’t read them yet).

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Christine

I maaaay have squealed when I saw this post. BUT HMC. EEEEEEEEE!!!!!!!!!!! IT’S MY FAVORITE BOOK. I want to read it ALL THE TIME. I’ve read it 3? 4? times now and just never, ever, ever get tried of it. It makes me so HAPPY. It’s so cozy and fun. I don’t know. The whole FEEL of it makes my heart smile.

I was just nodding along to your whole review. I agree with everything. The story, the characters, the world, the humor–it’s all amazing! Sophie is one of the BEST (and most unique) heroines I’ve ever read about. And then there’s Howl himself. Ooooh my. He’s my favorite fictional character. THAT’S how much I love him. o.o And yet whyyyyy? He’s so terrible. I don’t even know. DWJ was a genius to make such a horrible character so lovable.

ANYWAYS. I JUST LOVED ALL OF THIS. (P.S. your “the opposite of normal British-sci-fi-engineering” sentence got my laughing way too hard. I see what you did there. ;D)

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jenelle

:) I’m so glad other people love these books! I never met anyone else who even knew who DWJ WAS until I started blogging. I love the Harry Potter series… but these are the wizards I grew up with and I contest that they are ever so slightly better.

All of her books are so amazing and unique and her characters are so extremely different from each other! I love that she was able to write both Howl AND Chrestomanci and they are both amazing and powerful and lovable and yet completely different.

THANK YOU for your comment! And for getting my Doctor Who reference!!!! :) :) :)

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Esther

I read this book for the first time about two weeks ago now and OHMYGOODNESS IT IS THE BEST! It immediately skyrocketed up to my favorites list with unprecedented speed. I love Howl and Sophie and Calcifer and everything!

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