I am not sure why I have not previously read Howl’s Moving Castle. I know that I mistakenly thought that I had watched the movie. (I am pretty sure I watched Spirited Away and wrongly remembered it as Howl’s Moving Castle.) I was looking for some fiction last week and saw the audiobook at my library after seeing someone say on Twitter that they reread it every January. I picked it up on a whim and finished it in three days.
Howl’s Moving Castle is a book that I want to read again in print. I enjoyed the audiobook, but there are a few times when I think I missed small plot points because it was audio and not in print. There is depth in the story here but like many young adult books, there is a lot of the story that is rooted in misunderstanding. And some of that misunderstanding is the characters not understanding their own emotions.
Sophie, the protagonist, is a witch or magician, but she doesn’t not know it. Her lack of awareness of her gifts is the main plot point. She slowly comes to an awareness of her gifts as she comes to an awareness of her love for Howl’s, the self-centered womanizing wizard who is responsible for the moving castle. The magic has a video game and steampunk feel to it. It works, but it isn’t as much classic Mideavil sword and sorcery fantasy as it is a 19th-century world that has magic.
I know the age difference in romantic partnerships was less concerning in earlier generations, but I am concerned about it here (and many other young adult books.) Sophie is 18 or 19 in most of the book. And Howl is 27 more experienced in the ways of the world. Howl’s Moving Castle does not really explore Howl’s womanizing. It is mostly off-screen and fairly PG. But the gap in age doesn’t sit right with me. (Similar to my feeling about almost all of L’Engle’s books.)
Part of why it is likely less important to the book is that Sophie is cursed early in the book and is changed into an old woman. She isn’t just made to look old; she becomes old with the ailments of age. This gives Sophie some wisdom around age but doesn’t give her the experience of life, just the experience of being treated as if she were elderly (and the experience of feeling old.) Sophie’s change in appearance allows her to change her personality and she becomes more aware of her own desires and needs as well as more responsible for doing what it takes to get there. She stops being a doormat and becomes more emotionally and relationally mature.
There are a lot of threads to the story, and they mostly resolve themselves quite neatly. The way so many things come together is part of what makes me want to pick up the next book fairly soon. But I do have some other books I need to work through first.