Goodreads: Howl’s Moving Castle
Series: Howl’s Moving Castle #1
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.