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  • Writer's pictureKrista Jain

Howl's Moving Castle by Diana Wynne Jones

You may have heard of this one before, as it's a popular movie by Studio Ghibli, but like so many movies both great and not so great, this story is based on a book. Let me set this straight; Howl's Moving Castle is a children's book. A rather fantastic one at that. Am I a child? No. Do I read a lot of children's books regularly? Yes. If you don't read a lot of children's books or even don't read much at all, you might think this is weird.

Seriously though, there are fantastic children's books out there, and a lot of them carry aspects adults can really appreciate. Some books, like Harry Potter and Warriors, are action-packed and gritty enough for adults to fully enjoy. Some of them are really dark at times as well. So much more can happen in kid books than what can happen on a screen I suppose.

I went a little off topic there. For those who don't know, Howl's Moving Castle isn't the only book in Diana Wynne Jones' series. Oh yes, she made a trilogy. I saw the movie when I was a child and it remains my most favorite Studio Ghibli movie, so can you imagine the excitement I felt when I discovered the books a few years later!? It was like an expansion to one of my favorite worlds! There are three in this world, though Howl and Sophie aren't the main characters in the other two books. Don't worry though, they are important to the plot lines. I'll talk more about those stories in a bit, but for now, let's talk about the main one.

The movie is beautiful and full of life. As you can predict, it's about a moving castle. A fire demon named Calcifer controls the castle under the orders of Howl, a feared wizard among the land. He meets with an ordinary girl named Sophie Hatter, but that wasn't the incident that pushed the story forward. The Wicked Witch of the Waste was jealous and cursed her, leaving young Sophie in the body of an old woman. Knowing she can't stay home, she left and found the castle. Now, she must solve her plight as well as uncover the castle's lingering dark secrets as well.

It's the same idea that's expressed in the book, though there are a few differences. My copy of the book included a very neat interview with the author, and I found it really interesting. As it turns out, Diana Wynne Jones loves the movie! Not just that, but she thinks it's more creative than her own book! That's some high praise right there. Usually, the opposite is said in this case when it comes to the productions of movies. One of the things she loves most about it is the castle itself. In the movie, the castle is nothing more than a lump of fused trash and scraps. She said this gives it more character. It made it unique and memorable. It's not very noticeable in the book, and I usually imagine the movie's castle anyway, but the book has a dark, somewhat mechanical castle hovering above the ground. Let I said though; not totally noticeable in the way she writes it. I only encountered a few lines that made me remember it was different from the movie's version.

Surprisingly though, a lot of things happen just the same, and the characters are about the same as displayed in the movie too. This makes me very happy. In her interview, Diana Wynne Jones said it was important for her characters to be as realistic as possible, and the best way to do that was to make sure each personality had an imperfection. She does this very well. Sophie is stubborn and often does things her way and Howl- well, Howl is just a mess no matter how you look at him. It's also those issues that make them lovable and unique.

Both the book and movie is amazing, and I really like the perks that both of them offers. And as amazing as the movie is, I don't feel like it's praised enough for getting everything so well. I cannot recommend this book enough, especially if you absolutely loved the movie like I did. You won't be disappointed. You may even discover some background the movie chose not to explain...

Somewhat smudgy picture of book two!

Anyway, I could go on all day about this if I wanted to, but let's check the other two. The second book, Castle in the Air, brings us a new character in an Oriental setting. Abdullah is a carpet salesman who buys a magic carpet off a strange man. That night, he sleeps on it and it takes him to a courtyard. He wakes up and believes he's dreaming, so when he meets the beautiful Flower-in-the-Night, he convinces her he's a prince. That's not before he's insulted by her when she thinks he's a woman. That's merely because she's never seen a man before outside of her father. When Abdullah returns to his homeland, he goes on a search for pictures of men, young, old, handsome, or ugly, it doesn't matter. He wants to show her what they look like. The crisis begins when he returns and she's stolen by a djinn. Abdullah goes on an adventure to save her from the floating castle she's held in.

On his adventure, he meets some interesting and mysterious characters like a somewhat aggressive genie who grants one wish a day, and a soldier who prizes a mother black cat and her little kitten. We may know some of these characters already from the first book, but I'm not telling who!

While the characters of the main story continue to appear in the other titles, the new settings and characters we met are left behind. As we move on to the last book, House of Many Ways, Abdullah's world is far away and we delve into the life of a young girl named Charmain Baker. In this one, Charmain is left to the task of house-sitting for her Great-Uncle William. As the title of the book suggests, the house does indeed have many ways. As she takes over his little cottage, she realizes each door leads to a completely different location each time she walks through one.

Each book is mysterious and sometimes dark, but I feel like the last book is even more so than the others. Since it is a children's book, it's not going to keep anyone up at night, but I remember being shocked by some of the uncovered secrets. Unique to this title is the terrible Lubbock. This creature can lay eggs inside of living creatures, (Including humans!) until they become sick and/or eventually die. Kinda scary for a kid's book. Maybe that's why I admire it so much. Jones isn't too shy to do what she wants without making things too inappropriate. This series is something for everyone to enjoy.

Maybe it's because I loved the movie way before I loved the books, but the first one in the series is still my favorite. If you love charming magic, mysterious secrets, realistically flawed characters, I certainly recommend you read this no matter your age. Have you seen the movie? What do you think about it, or is there another series you love that you would like to share with me? I'd love to hear what you think!

books published by various publishers and movie is owned by Studio Ghibli.

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Jul 03, 2019

I love Howl's Moving Castle! I've only seen the movie but it is one of my favorite Studio Ghibli productions. I'll have to check out the books! I also love The Secret World of Arrietty and highly recommend it!

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