Howl’s Moving Castle is a fantasy novel written by Diana Wynne Jones. The story is about a young girl who lives in a world where magic, which is a very real aspect of life, can be taught, learned, possessed and used to one’s advantage and the good or ill will of others. Sophie crosses paths with the evil and powerful Witch of the Waste and is cursed so that she suddenly progresses to the age of 90. She then runs away from her town and ends up living in the magical moving castle that belongs to Howl, another magician who is less feared but just as powerful as the Witch of the Waste.
In the story, we find that even witches and magicians are human with human faults and human desires. Their ability to practice magic does not necessarily set them apart from others but it merely helps to make up who they are, similar to an accent or a personality trait. The story is about how Sophie tries to break her own curse while attempting to help and interact with the others around her, magical or otherwise.
The novel was written in 1986 and was so successful that two sequels followed it: Castle in the Air and House of Many Ways. The works of Jones have often been compared to the Harry Potter book because of similar themes, and due to the success of the Harry Potter books many of Jones’ books have experienced a resurgence in popularity. Howl’s Moving Castle was made into a movie in 2004 by Hayao Miyazaki and produced by his company Studio Gibli Films. The movie was nominated for best-animated film for that year.
As a fan of anime and Japanese culture, my husband got me interested in the Miyazaki films, which I was skeptical about but quickly became a fan of as well. The first Miyazaki film I saw was Spirited Away (2001) and soon after that Chris showed me other great Miyazaki films such as Princess Mononoke, Castle in the Sky, Kiki’s Delivery Service, and Howl’s Moving Castle. Since Howl’s Moving Castle, I have seen Miyazaki’s movies Ponyo, The Secret World of Arriety and am dying to see his newest film and supposedly his last, The Wind Rises. I enjoy his film because they are unique in that the animation is distinct from the usual Disney movie, the stories are child appropriate but are certainly geared towards adults, and the voice acting (especially on his later works) has been phenomenal.
Howl’s Moving Castle has Christian Bale performing the character of Howl. If you have read my other reviews (The Prestige and Little Women), then you know that I am a pretty big fan of Bale. Also, Howl’s Moving Castle has Emily Mortimer (The Newsroom) as Young Sophie, Lauren Bacall as the Witch of the Waste, Billy Crystal as the lovable fire demon, Josh Hucherson (The Hunger Games) as Michael, Blythe Danner as Suliman and Jena Malone (The Hunger Games) as Sophie’s sister. Aside from the beautiful and intriguing animation that Miyazaki provides, there is a wonderful cast that brings the story to life.
The novel is in the same thread as the movie (or vice versa) but the story does vary to fit some of Miyazaki’s familiar themes. Jones’ make-up of the characters is, for the most part, honored in the film adaptation. It is simply that the movie’s characters end up getting involved in different activities than in the book. I enjoyed both the book and the movie for some of the same reasons and for different reasons as well.
The novel gave Howl more of a backstory, which added to his humanity and made him relatable in spite of his abilities. The movie was written so that there was a war going on which gave the filmmaker the means to make a comment on whether or not war was right or wrong (supposedly Miyazaki was inspired to write about this in light of the war in Iraq). If you have experienced and enjoyed the movie, like myself, then you would like the book as well and vice versa.
I would recommend this book to any Miyazaki fans and to any fans of fantasy novels. I listened to this book, which I enjoyed as the book was not terribly long and the narrator did a great job distinguishing the characters. Although different from many of the young adult novels that have been published recently, I can see this book appealing to a younger audience as well.
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