It’s been a while since I’ve done a good book review, but I’ve wanted to start getting back into the habit. Especially since my writing has (thankfully) started to pick up again. Lately, for the sake of time, I’ve been focusing more on Audio Books as I am able to multi-task that way. Now I know there are people who are against audio books, people who love them, and people who are totally in between, but that’s a post for another time. Suffice it to say for now that I used to hate them but now I love them, and I’ll get into all of that on a later date.
Recently I’ve been on a kick of listening to EVERYTHING I can get my hands on by Diana Wynne Jones. Unfortunately, there are not a whole lot of audio books made out of her published titles yet, but I will (one day) gladly read all of her titles the good old fashioned way once I can get my hands on them. I discovered her, of course, through her most well known and beloved book, “Howl’s Moving Castle”.
Now, many people know of “Howl’s Moving Castle” because of the movie that was made by Hayao Miyazaki. This movie has a ROARING fan-base and has won multiple awards around the globe. However, when I started reading the book I had actually never seen the movie, and honestly I’m SO GLAD I waited until after I was done with the book to give the movie a shot.
The book IS AMAZING. It has everything a fantasy/fairytale lover could want! Magic, spells and curses, quaint characters, interesting adventures, and an interesting twist at the end that I honestly never saw coming.
I immediately fell in love with this book because of this beautiful and whimsical opening:
“In the land of Ingary, where such things as seven-league boots and cloaks of invisibility really exist, it is quite a misfortune to be born the eldest of three. Everyone knows you are the one who will fail first, and worst, if the three of you set out to seek your fortunes.
Sophie Hatter was the eldest of three sisters. She was not even the child of a poor woodcutter, which might have given her some chance of success!”
Ok, TOTALLY hooked. Let’s start this story playing off of fairytale tropes, but lets switch things around a bit! The fact that this is the story of the eldest daughter, which every fairytale lover KNOWS is destined to fail, is icing on the cake for me because this book is OBVIOUSLY based on fairytale tropes from the get-go, and everyone knows that in most fairytales the protagonist somehow ends up with a happy ending. So obviously the question BEGGING to be asked here is, “How does Sophie get her happy ending if she is the eldest of three in a fairytale world?”
(WARNING: If you have not read the book, have not seen the movie, or both, and you do not want any spoilers, do NOT read any farther!)
Sophie’s character was absolutely charming. She started out as a young girl who felt like she would never succeed because everyone KNOWS that the oldest of three is the one most likely to fail at everything, and because of that she never really tried to do much with her life since she KNEW she was destined to fail. But when a curse turns her from a young girl of about 16 or 17 into an old lady of about 90, Sophie’s outlook on life changes from “I will never succeed at anything” to “Screw that: I’m old now, I’ve got nothing to lose, and things can hardly get worse… I’m going out to seek my fortune and see what happens.”
As an old woman, Sophie is much more confident and comfortable with herself. Where as a young girl she always seemed meek, soft spoken, and half afraid of her own shadow, as an old woman she is often loud, opinionated, and even a little brash… but in a good way. She is mostly unaware of the fact that, despite her being the eldest of three, she happens to have magic powers of her own and tends to do magic without even realizing she’s doing it. It’s extremely fun to watch her not only become more confident in herself, but to also start to realize how her powers work. This more-sure-of-herself version of Sophie is a beautiful balancing contrast to the characters of Howl and his fire-demon, Calcifer.
Howl is the wizard that owns the moving castle that rolls about the plains above the town where Sophie lives. Before Sophie was cursed to be an old woman, the stories around the town were that Howl was an absolutely evil old wizard who preyed on young girls so that he could devour their hearts. Once Sophie is turned old and sets out to seek her fortune as a grandma-lady, she ends up taking refuge in the moving castle from the night and the cold where she finds out that Howl is not old at all, and that he’s more self-centered and cowardly than evil. She makes an excuse to stay in the castle by telling Howl she’s to be his new cleaning lady.
Howl is just as charming as Sophie but in totally different ways. On the outside he really does appear to be self-centered, vain, and cowardly, but the more we get to know him as the story goes on, the more we learn that he has a good heart, that he’s actually very kind, and that he is definitely brave but not in the most obvious ways. He’s also quite as cunning as Sophie herself is, but we start to learn more about that later. Interestingly enough, the story takes on a sort of “portal fantasy” vibe, when we learn that Howl is actually from Wales in OUR world, and not originally from the fantasy world of Ingary that Sophie is native to at all. We also learn that he is not the only wizard in the land of Ingary that is from our world, and that its likely he won’t be the last.
And now we come to one of my favorite characters of all, Calcifer. Calcifer is Howl’s fire-demon and he’s the one who helped Howl build the moving castle in the first place, as well as the one that keeps the castle moving. Calcifer is quite as stubborn and hard-headed as both Sophie and Howl. He likes to pretend that he’s an evil fire-demon, when in truth he’s quite a nice one, and despite his complaints and nagging, he is rather fond of Howl and becomes fond of Sophie too… He also gets protective, which in my mind is adorable. In the book he’s described as being blue and green, with red-orange eyes and a purple mouth. In the movie he’s seen mostly as a normal colored flame. When we first meet him, we learn that he is the one who allows Sophie to enter the moving castle while Howl is away, and that he is very particular about who he lets into the castle… (usually Howl and his apprentice Michael agree that if Calcifer lets someone into the castle, that person is probably an alright person…).
Calcifer convinces Sophie to stay in the castle by telling her that if she can find and break his contract with Howl (which he claims is doing neither one of them any good), then he will lift the curse laid on her. Sophie agrees and that’s when she comes up with the excuse of being Howl’s new cleaning woman to allow her to stay in the castle. We do find out later that the contract between Howl and Calcifer really ISN’T doing them any good, and that both Howl and Calcifer realized when she entered the castle that Sophie was the only one who could actually break the contract without killing both of them.
Another thing I absolutely adored about this story is that the love-story part of it felt so natural and didn’t take over the whole plot. When Sophie and Howl first meet, they can hardly stand each other, but as things go on and we learn more about both characters, we can see the fondness grow in both of them for each other. Sophie realizes that Howl isn’t all bad, and that he’s actually quite kind and brave (if still mostly vain, childish, and cowardly when he feels like it). Howl grows a sort of fondness for Sophie and all she does for him (and I like to think he also enjoys the fact that she won’t let him always get his way either). He soon grows protective of her, but not in the way of a lover. In fact, the love story is so subtle that it first appears that they go from absolutely hating each other, to barely tolerating each other, to being ok friends, to suddenly realizing near the end that they actually love each other. There is not much mush-gushy at all in the story, and the realization of their love at the end feels like it was natural and real, rather than forced and contrived. It’s quite a lovely truth near the end of the book when we learn that Howl has tried to take Sophie’s curse off of her several times when she wasn’t looking or when she was sleeping, and that he’d been working with Calcifer to help relieve her aches and pains, and help her heart be stronger when she wasn’t aware of it. At the very end of the book when we truly realize that they’re in love, the moment is more of an “Aww! How cute!!!” one, rather than the “Ugh! I saw that coming a mile away. How unrealistic and cheesy!” one I’ve come to dread in so many other books.
I totally give this book a 5 out of 5 star rating! Seriously, I loved everything about. It’s charming, witty, fun, exciting, cute, adventurous, magical… as I said before, its everything a fantasy/fairytale lover could want in a book and more! It immediately went to the top of my “favorite books” list, along with “The Chronicles of Narnia” and “The Last Unicorn”. And in truth, this is hardly surprising, considering the fact that Diana Wynne Jones went to Oxford and actually sat in lectures taught by J.R.R. Tolkien and C.S. Lewis. (I SOOOO wish I could have been so lucky…)
And now for the movie… I DID finally break down and watch the movie that I’ve heard so very much about. I won’t lie, it was good as far as movies go… but it really wasn’t my favorite thing. As happens so often when books are remade for the silver screen, it only BARELY resembled the literature it was born from, and while the graphics were beautiful, there were so many things that didn’t line up. Calcifer looked NOTHING like his description in the book. Howl was turned into this charming lady’s man with very few flaws (basically the perfect fantasy love interest for a young girl) and I felt like most of his character was washed away into a flat shadow of the awesome character he was in the book. And actually, much the same happened with Sophie’s character. I think they kept a few more things accurate with her character than with Howl’s, but a lot of saltiness was just not present in the movie version. Also, Howl’s apprentice Michael looked WAY WAY younger than he seemed to be portrayed in the book. And on top of all that, the love story in the movie was so much more obvious and ridiculous… I much preferred the book version (but then, I’ve always been picky about my love stories…). Also, the war (which was present in the book but not terribly fundamental to the storyline) was much more prominent and terrifying in the movie, and the whole part of the story about Howl originally being from our world wasn’t present at all.
As I said, the movie in itself WASN’T bad, but it only BARELY resembled the book, and honestly, I liked the book a WHOLE lot better. I give the movie 3 stars out of 5. Brilliantly illustrated… but not nearly as enjoyable for me as its literary counterpart.
So what did you guys think? Have you seen the movie? Did you read the book? Have you done both? Did you see the movie first or read the book first, and which did you like better, and why? Feel free to let me know your thoughts in the comments! I look forward to hearing from you. ^_^