Howl’s Moving Castle by Diana Wynne Jones

HowlGoodreads: Howl’s Moving Castle
Series: Howl’s Moving Castle #1
Source: Borrowed

Summary: As the eldest of three daughters, Sophie believes herself destined to live uneventfully.  An encounter with the Witch of the Waste, however, transforms her into an elderly woman and propels her on a journey to the moving castle of the notorious wizard Howl.  Unfortunately, the Witch of the Waste has an old grievance against Howl and even the enchantments of his fire demon may not be enough to save them.

Review: Howl’s Moving Castle introduces readers to a magical world where the out-of–the-ordinary is expected and almost anything can happen.  Castles fly, scarecrows come to life, and witches and wizards provide the populace with spells that can do anything from cure a cough to win a war.  Sophie’s belief that her birth order will prevent her from having any adventures, as demonstrated by the countless fairy tales where the youngest children always succeed where their older siblings have failed, thus seems quite strange.  It provides the basis for an extended illustration of the meaning of destiny and the power of free will.

Initially, however, Sophie seems to have very little will at all.  She resigns herself so well to what she perceives as her fate–trimming hats in the back of a shop with little human interaction–that she chooses not to leave her work even when the opportunity presents itself.  While her sisters demonstrate that they have both the desire and the courage to mold their own destinies, Sophie creates for herself a self-fulfilling prophecy of disuse.

Making a character so meek that she can barely walk out the door might seem like a step that would hobble a story from the start–who could ever cheer for a girl who refuses to cheer for herself?  Sophie’s feelings of inadequacy and subsequent despair might be, however, all too familiar to readers.  Fantasy is, after all, often a form of escapist entertainment.  The decision to debilitate the girl even further is thus significant.  The Witch of the Waste takes from Sophie what might be considered her only asset–her youth and its strength–and thus Sophie is thrown upon the world.

Presenting an older woman as the protagonist of a fantasy is a daring move.  True, Sophie may not think like an older woman, but she does have to deal with unexpected physical weakness and to learn how to manage a certain new asperity in her manner.  In other words, in a genre that so often celebrates the vigor of youth, the strength of arms, and the wisdom of old age, Sophie lacks all three.  The author leaves her protagonist with absolutely none of the skills that are supposed to guarantee her success.  She is, unexpectedly, quite ordinary.

Sophie’s ordinariness ultimately drives the story.  Her birth order never determined her destiny–readers know that.  But readers also know that, in their world, such things as brilliance or good looks or money do determine destiny.  Sophie proves them wrong.  Her story transcends her world to enter into ours, promising that possibility, magic, adventure, wonder–they still exist, and they are there for the taking for anyone who dares.

Published: 1986

Krysta 64

8 thoughts on “Howl’s Moving Castle by Diana Wynne Jones

    • Krysta says:

      The Ghibli movie is what made me want to read the book in the first place! It’s been a long time, but I remember absolutely loving the movie. Unfortunately, it left a lot unexplained, so for now I think I might prefer the book simply because the hopping scarecrow makes a lot more sense and there’s more world development.


  1. David says:

    I’ve heard of the movie, but never seen it or read the book. You focus on an interesting point, though: not many stories feature an older protagonist, and when they do the focus is on their wisdom and experience. I’m now quite interested to see how this book handles a heroine who somehow possesses the age without the experience!


    • Krysta says:

      The movie is absolutely gorgeous. I highly recommend it, even though it differs from the book. I do wish the book had shown more of the effects suddenly aging has on Sophie, though–she adapts to it remarkably quickly. It makes sense since she has a fatalist attitude, but I still think an eighteen-year-old who suddenly loses 60 years of her projected lifespan would harbor a bit of anger. Or something. Still, it was refreshing to see an elderly woman star as the protagonist of a young adult novel. I was really amused by the way she ordered Howl around like she was his grandmother. Everyone else is terrified of him and she just doesn’t care. It was a great dynamic.


  2. Michelle @ In Libris Veritas says:

    I really loved this book! I saw the movie first (like so many others) and I really wanted to see if the book was just as good, I’m so happy that it was actually better which says a lot. I need to re-read it though because it’s been a few years.


    • Krysta says:

      I was a bit surprised by how different the book was from the movie, even though friends told me to expect it. I think both are great works of art, though. The film has a certain whimsical beauty to it while the book is a bit quirkier. I’m hoping I can find the sequels to the book somewhere.


  3. George says:

    Very informative & insightful review. Second one I’ve read on this book & I really, really do need to get around to reading it. Maybe sometime this summer.


    • Krysta says:

      Thank you so much! I waited years to read the book and now I’m wondering why I didn’t do it sooner. I definitely plan to read more of Diana Wynne Jones’s work in the future.


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