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  • Writer's pictureAzalea Forrest

Howl's Moving Castle - A Forrest's Book Review

I watched the Ghibli adaptation of Howl’s Moving Castle long before I ever read the book, but when I found there was one, I was more than happy to read what inspired the movie. This is my second reading of it, and I believe I enjoyed this read through even more than my first!

Diana Wynne Jones writes a witty and adventurous tale of a young woman named Sophie Hatter who feels she is just a simple girl doomed to failure and bad luck, simply because she is the eldest of three sisters.

Sophie works with her step-mother in the family hat shop in a town called Market Chipping, where she spends all her days talking to hats as she makes them. Her hats become quite popular after one hat in particular is said to have helped a woman marry a duke. But the popularity put all the work on Sophie, while her step-mother Fanny spent her time counting coin and buying new materials. Needing a break and missing her sisters, one day Sophie decides to take the day off and visit her sister Lettie at the bakery she started to apprentice at. Her sister tells her she needs to find her own path and get out of that hat shop, and that Fanny is just off gallivanting in town rather than her supposed business trips. Sophie just isn’t so sure, about Lettie’s advice or the rumors of Fanny. How can Sophie find her fortune, being the eldest of three? She believes there is no fortune waiting for her, like her two sisters: one an apprentice baker, the other training to be a witch, both equally swimming in opportunity.

Sophie comes off as timid, soft-spoken, and a little down on herself. The crowds from the holiday, May Day, frighten her, as does a particular man who approaches her on the street, offering to walk her to wherever she needs to go due to her obvious timidness, which just upsets her all the more. When the Witch of the Waste shows up in her hat shop and curses her, she’s transformed into a frail old woman, and suddenly none of her fears matter anymore. So she’s the eldest, well now she really is! Sophie finds a fire inside herself, and she leaves the hat shop and sets out to find her fortune, even if all that means is a warm bed.

As Sophie goes out into the countryside, she eventually comes upon Howl’s walking castle, a cacophony of metal almost impossibly strewn together, with black smoking stacks. There’s been talk of the wizard Howl, a man who steals the heart of young, beautiful girls and eats them. Well, Sophie’s no longer young, and she never considered herself beautiful. Smoke stacks means a fire, so she’s more than happy to find herself a place to rest in this castle when there’s nowhere else around.

I really love how Sophie goes from timid and forlorn to self-assured and even angry. Once the Witch’s curse sets in, she’s just so mad and uses all of that energy to do something she knows she’s good at: cleaning. She practically terrorizes the occupants of Howl’s castle with her cleaning rampage, which the castle was actually in dire need of. She doesn’t seem to pity herself at all and actually seems to enjoy all the perks she’s gained, psychologically, from being old. Of course, this is all just a shift in her frame of mind, but it took a curse to get there. Still, it shows how strong Sophie really is, something her siblings have known all along but that Sophie could never see for herself.

All the characters in Howl’s Moving Castle are lovable and interesting, even when they’re not so lovable. Howl, for instance, can be insufferable to Sophie with his selfish nature, and his common act of “slithering out” of questions and situations he’d just rather not suffer with. He’s certainly quirky, but he’s also quite mysterious, and has a noble way about him as you learn more of who he is and why he does the things he does.

I’ll admit that seeing the film made it easier to imagine some of the more outlandish characters: Calcifer, for instance, is a fire demon who sings and cracks jokes and complains from the hearth in Howl’s castle, but that’s not to say that Jones’ descriptions are lacking. In fact, it adds to the image I already had in my mind.

There is so much magic in this book, and fun little things like capes that give you disguises, to seven-league boots that will take you seven leagues in only one footstep. I loved learning about the world and imagining Sophie as she zips through the countryside in those boots, trying with all her might to stop, but they’re so big and heavy, and she’s so frail…

I also love how Sophie’s sisters are part of the story. They both have their own unique personalities too, and the bits and pieces you learn were fun little anecdotes that gave the world more life. It’s such a cute book, and the end is so riveting and intense, I couldn’t put the book down. Characters you thought were kind of awful people were actually quite kind and caring, but just caught up in their own lives, and I really felt fearful just as Sophie did every time the scarecrow would show up.

I remember being put off the first time I read Howl’s Moving Castle—I wasn't’ quite convinced with the way he behaved compared to how I had expected him to be from the movie, but to be honest it’s an unfair comparison, and if you’re able, try not to compare them! Each story has their own uniqueness and charm, and I’m so glad I gave HMC another read. It’s an adorable story, and I’m quite excited to read House of Many Ways. The only other thing I’d have wished to see more of was the Witch of the Waste, but Jones does enough to explain that I wasn’t too disappointed.

I can’t help but give Howl’s Moving Castle 5/5 stars. I’d recommend it to anyone interested in a story full of magic, witches and wizards, and singing fire demons cursing your bacon to burn.

Have you read Howl’s Moving Castle? What was your opinion of it? What were your favorite moments? I’d love to read your comments down below. Don’t forget to subscribe for more blog posts!


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