Sophie has the great misfortune of being the eldest of three daughters, destined to fail miserably should she ever leave home to seek her fate. But when she unwittingly attracts the ire of the Witch of the Waste, Sophie finds herself under a horrid spell that transforms her into an old lady. Her only chance at breaking it lies in the ever-moving castle in the hills: the Wizard Howl’s castle. To untangle the enchantment, Sophie must handle the heartless Howl, strike a bargain with a fire demon, and meet the Witch of the Waste head-on. Along the way, she discovers that there’s far more to Howl—and herself—than first meets the eye.
In this giant jigsaw puzzle of a fantasy, people and things are never quite what they seem. Destinies are intertwined, identities exchanged, lovers confused. The Witch has placed a spell on Howl. Does the clue to breaking it lie in a famous poem? And what will happen to Sophie Hatter when she enters Howl’s castle?
Provided by Publisher
I didn’t even realize Howl’s Moving Castle was a book before it was made into a movie. I saw the movie first years back, in high school, and like many people, I fell in love with Hayao Miyazaki (co-creator of Studio Ghibli) and his films immediately. Miyazaki had read Jones’ 1986 novel and loved the world-building so much that his film adaptation in 2004 embellished and expanded upon the fantasy world created by Jones. If you’ve seen the film, you’ll be familiar with the heavy-handed themes of love and compassion and the negative portrayals of a war fought for the removed upper-classes. Nothing is changed per se about the general plot, and many of my favorite book elements are present in the movie. It’s worth watching, and Miyazaki still considers it one of his best films. Find it on DVD here or Blu-ray here.
The book itself is delightful. The fantasy world Jones created layers a make-believe realm that sits over and intersects with our own version of Wales, though the setting is likely early twentieth century at the latest. There’s remarkably little detail from the Welsh portions that could betray a fixed period in time, and because most of the world is a fantastic place that doesn’t really exist, the whole thing feels very timeless. I love novels that can suck me in like that because it doesn’t happen often. There has to be a suspension of disbelief that doesn’t take away from how much the characters are supposed to matter, and I think Jones was a master of her craft.
It’s also funny a lot of the time. Even after being cursed by the Witch of the Waste, Sophie remains, if not optimistic, then at least a happy realist. Her response to the curse is really typical for the rest of her actions; she sees herself in the mirror, feels her aching body, and says to herself,
“Don’t worry old thing, you look quite healthy. Besides, this is much more like you really are. […] Well, of course I shall have to do for her when I get the chance.” (Jones 36)
I don’t know why this is so funny to me, but she just takes the curse in stride, assumes her outside now matches her old soul, and is like, “well, duh, I’ll get revenge eventually.” An icon, really. And then she takes off all across the moors because the OBVIOUS response is to seek out the other sorcerer around and his magical moving castle. She then bullies his apprentice Michael into letting her stay on because she’s made a deal with the fire demon occupying the Wizard Howl’s hearth. Howl also just kind of takes this in stride? By the final third of the novel, right before all the threads start coming together, Howl has a household consisting of:
- A dramatic angsty ageless Welsh wizard who turns himself into piles of green goo when women aren’t interested in him (Howl)
- A fire demon contracted to Howl, that warms the hearth, shares magic with Howl, and powers the moving castle (Calcifer)
- A 15-year-old magician’s apprentice, who is very in love with a local town girl and can’t tell the difference between a written spell and a piece of John Donne’s poetry (Michael)
- A guy who has been cursed to be a dog and is a different kind of dog in every scene (spoilers if I tell)
- An enchanted scarecrow (more spoilers)
It’s the best kind of chaotic chosen-family, and I love it. I loved this book, and there are two others I plan to read that take place in the same world. The final fight scene is just perfect as all the threads line up, and Sophie and Howl have a conversation amidst the chaos.