Wednesday, September 28, 2011

Review: Howl's Moving Castle

by Diana Wynne Jones
Start Date: 2 September 2011
End Date: 3 September 2011
Paperback, 429 pages
Published May 1st 2008 by Eos [an imprint of HarperCollins] (first published April 14th 1986)

Summary (from Goodreads):
In the land of Ingary, such things as spells, invisible cloaks, and seven-league boots were everyday. The Witch of the Waste was another matter.

After fifty years of quiet, it was rumored that the Witch was about to terrorize the country again. So when a moving black castle, blowing dark smoke from its four thin turrets, appeared on the horizon, everyone thought it was the Witch. The castle, however, belonged to Wizard Howl, who, it was said, liked to suck the souls of young girls.

The Hatter sisters: —Sophie, Lettie, and Martha, —and all the other girls were warned not to venture into the streets alone. But that was only the beginning.

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?

Diana Wynne Jones's entrancing fantasy is filled with surprises at every turn, but when the final stormy duel between the Witch and the Wizard is finished, all the pieces fall magically into place.

My Review:
Howl's Moving Castle was a lovely read. I really enjoyed all of Howl and Sophie's antics and witty banter, and Diana Wynne Jones' clever way of piecing together all of the subplots to create an fun and unusual story.

Note: I'm going to talk about the movie version of Howl's Moving Castle a lot in this review, because having seen the movie when I reread it this time around created a totally different experience . If you haven't seen it, it's a very, very good movie (but read the book first!).

The first time I had read Howl's Moving Castle was before I saw the movie - I knew there was one, but had never gotten around to it. This time around, I had seen the movie many times. When reading, I could not get the characters from the movie out of my head for the first 1/3 of the book. For some of it, the lines from the movie would be "playing" in my head as I read the corresponding lines in the book. Since they're not identical, the lines from the movie were very distracting. Also, I'd forgotten that Howl's apprentice was Michael in the book, rather than Markl (from the movie). Having the different name helped me picture a different character, thank goodness. If I had pictured little Markl from the movie when he was in love with Lettie/Martha ,  I don't know what I would have done (spoiler, highlight to view).

Thankfully, after the first 1/3 of the book, it veers off in a different direction than the movie, and I like much better. I love all of the different sub-plots that were cut from the movie, and how everything works out so nicely. All of the loose strings are wrapped up, whereas in the movie version a lot of questions are left hanging (I showed to movie to my brother and I kept having to say "It doesn't really explain [whatever he was asking about] in the movie, but in the book...").

Some of my favorite parts were the ones not included in the movie. I really liked the parts with Howl's family in Wales; you don't get much of Howl's backstory in the movie and it adds a lot to his character. I really liked that DWJ sorted out all of the politics to that they actually made sense. The whole poem / spell thing was very cool; in the movie you never really know what the Witch's spell is. I loved the mix-up with the suits, and really all of the little funny things that DWJ put in.

The characters were wonderful; they were all very unique and so much fun to read about. I loved.... just about everyone. Each character was completely unique and I'd love to spend a day with any and all of them.

I really liked DWJ's writing style - she was so matter-of-fact about things like the eldest being destined for failure if she went out to seek her fortune. It brought me into the world, because in Ingary, those things are matter-of-fact.

In this particular reread, I was especially moved by a few lines, not in the text of the story - that was all fun and laughter - but in the Q & A afterward. The last question was: "Can we look forward to any more stories involving Howl in the future?" DWJ answered, "I hope we can look forward to more Howl stories. There is already one I keep trying to write and which, so far, will not come out right. But I hope I can crack it in the end." As you may know, Diana Wynne Jones passed away this March. Although I heard that several books she finished earlier in the year will still be published, I do not believe another Howl book is one of them. Although I did not know DWJ well as a person, as an author I love her and I wish she were still with us.

Overall Thoughts: Above all, when I try to sum up Howl's Moving Castle in a word, I come up with "fun." It is incredibly fun to read. From the antics of the characters to Sophie/DWJ's witty insights, from the complex plot that all comes together at the end to matter-of-fact happenings that part of you accepts simply because it is so matter-of-fact while part of you wants to laugh at the ridiculousness of it, Diana Wynne Jones has created a very fun, enjoyable read.

I read this book for my Fortnight of Old Favorites Challenge.

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