Last night I was sitting at IHOP (as I do on Wednesday nights after my writer’s group) and I mentioned that I had just reread Howl’s Moving Castle by Diana Wynne Jones after I discovered a tattered and much perused copy at a second hand bookstore. “Aw!” said my friend. “I love that book!” And we immediately launched into rhapsody’s about the Wizard Howl. (More on that rascal in a minute.)
But it was my friend Lynn who introduced me to this book in this way back when we were in college (or then abouts): It’s about Sophie, a girl who is turned into an old woman by a spell, and she goes to live in a wizard’s (moving) castle and she cleans for him, and she is strong willed and awesome and he falls in love with her no matter what she looks like but he’s under a spell, too and Sophie has to sort that out so they can save the kingdom together.
And I said: “She’s an old woman? Eiew. I don’t want to read about that.” (Only maybe not to her face.)
Well, my friend Lynn had pretty good taste in other matters (she was my friend, after all). So I decided to read other Diana Wynne Jones books. And then I read Howl’s Moving Castle.
What a delightful book. Everything about it is charming, from the voice to the characters to the magic. It’s witty in it’s language and deft in it’s plot turns. Jones is so good at planting seeds that will sprout at just the right moment to become useful. There’s a droll British understatement to the narration. Jones doesn’t oversell her points or hammer her humor. She just lets them develop naturally.
But on rereading this book, I have to say that what sets it apart from more recent books (HMC was published in 1986), and what makes it so very worth reading if you have not, is the characters. Sophie is marvelous. As the oldest of three, she accepts that she’s doomed to fail in finding her fortune. (Everyone knows only the youngest will succeed.) But her physical transformation sets her off on an adventure and quickly transforms her inside. She’s bossy and nosy (because old people are allowed to be) and she gets things done. (She doesn’t always make the right decision, but by goodness, she makes one.)
Then there’s Howl. He’s vain and feckless and droll and when it comes right down to it, decent and kind. Most of all, he’s multi-faceted and interesting. There is nothing generic about either of these characters. They’re quirky and cranky and brave, and utterly unique.
There is actually a rather lovely movie adaptation of this book that is worth watching, but you are seriously missing a treat if you don’t read this book. The voice and narration are the most delightful part of “Howl’s Moving Castle” (and of Diana Wynn Jones in general).
What else are the Bookanistas posting about today? See for yourself: