Title: Howl’s Moving Castle

Author: Diana Wynne Jones

Genre: Fantasy, Young Adult

Publisher: Harper Collins
Publication date: First edition: 1986 (This edition: 2009)
Paperback: 304 pages

In the land of Ingary, such things as spells, invisible cloaks, and seven-league boots were everyday things. 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.

Stand alone or series: It is a standalone novel that has two companion books: Castle in the Air and House of Many Ways

How did I get this book: Bought

Why did I read this book: I just recently discovered the works of DWJ and this was recommended by many, many readers.

Review:

Excuse me while I fangirl my way through this review.

I only recently discovered Diana Wynne Jones’ books and am already counting them as one of My Favourite Things About 2011 (along with discovering the works of Connie Willis). I am completely head over heels in love with her books, her writing, and you wouldn’t believe how happy I am that she has this looooooong backlist. I finished Howl’s Moving Castle and immediately went and bought Fire and Hemlock which I hear, is Made of Awesome (although completely unrelated to How).

Howl’s Moving Castle is one of those books that everybody and their dog kept telling me I should read and I have no idea why I kept postponing it until now when I decided it was About Time. And it’s funny too because I actually watched the Japanese animated movie years ago and loved it like Whoa and Hell Yes Please. Though now that I read the book, I see that movie is totally different (in case you were wondering) although it retains the Heart of the Story (< << hint).

The basics: Howl’s Moving Castle is a YA novel by British writer Diana Wynne Jones and it was first published in what feels like a Long Time Ago, in 1986, way before this whole YA Boom that we are seeing right now. Why do I even mention this? Because Howl’s Moving Castle has this je ne sais quoi, this Quality that I wish I saw more in the YA Fantasy novels I’ve been reading lately: for it has a Quality that speaks of Forever and I believe Howl’s Moving Castle will stand the Test of Time and be read by generations ahead of us.

But back to the basics: Sophie Hatter is the eldest of 3 siblings living in Market Chipping, the obedient daughter of a hat maker. Her father died a few years ago and Sophie lives with her stepmother and two sisters until, due to their dire economic circumstances, her two sisters are sent away to become apprentices and Sophie stays behind to work at the hat shop. It is a dull life, but that is the lot of Older Sisters, as you know. Anyways, this one day, the infamous and evil Witch of the Waste shows up at the shop and after a puzzling conversation (it is one of the Mysteries to be solved) turns Sophie into an old lady and part of the curse is that she can’t tell anyone about it. Sophie takes that as an opportunity to leave the shop and the town and try her luck in life. She then finds her way to the Moving Castle. Owned by the equally infamous and evil (or is he?) Wizard Howl, who terrifies young ladies and steals their hearts, the Castle is this amazing place with a door that opens to 4 different locations (one of them being the Wales of our own world!). At the Castle, Sophie becomes Howl’s cleaning lady, a position she can only secure after striking a bargain with the Castle’s resident Fire Demon, Calcifer. The bargain says that she will help Calcifer break his contract with Howl (the terms of said contract cannot be disclosed though, which is Another Puzzle that Sophie needs to put together) and in return he will help her become a young lady again. Howl is not very happy to have Sophie around, because he regards her as a busybody who keeps cleaning and moving things around but eventually they start to get along just fine, and Sophie discovers that there is more to Howl than she originally thought.

Howl’s Moving Castle is such a fine read and if I try to talk about everything that could be talked about this book, we would be here forever and an extra day. I mean, it has such wonderful elements: an imaginative world where a Castle’s door opens to 4 different places, each place with its own history and politics and magic (or lack of); it delves in Court politics as the King is looking for a missing brother and a missing Court Magician (which is yet another puzzle) and wants to make Howl his new Court Magician (to Howl’s despair); plus a plethora of great characters and puzzles and romance and curses and it is like, Fantasy at its best because it does wonders with an imaginary world and with fairy tales (more on that later) whilst delving into very real concerns such as one’s lot in life, and family and loyalty, and fear and war, and love and friendship. Not to mention that the book has such hilarious moments (and all of them because of Howl’s tendency to be a Drama King).

No, I can’t possibly talk about everything that is good about the book so instead, I will concentrate on the three elements that to me were the ones that shone.

First of all, we have fairy tale connections: although Howl’s Moving Castle is not really a specific fairytale retelling per se, it does definitely has fairytale elements, trappings and a fairytale feel to it. It is in the way some ideas are put forth: like the matter-of-fact way in which Sophie is presented as the Eldest daughter who will have no luck in life, because that’s the Way Things Are. But most importantly to me, is how those fairytale ideas are taken, explored and subverted. For example: Sophie’s family and life are definitely reminiscent of Cinderella but with Sophie having a good relationship with her sisters and stepmother. But those relationships are put to test and a few things are brought to life only to be later on, explored even further. Similarly, Howl and Sophie are definitely Beauty and the Beast although the roles keep changing (Sophie is at times the Beauty and at times the Beast and the same goes for Howl) and are not so easily defined. Speaking of roles, both characters are in need of saving but that saving doesn’t happen without soul searching and change. And how about Howl for a hero? Although ultimately, he is definitely a good person he is also a vain, self-absorbed cowardly wizard, who many times pulls a tantrum because he has the man-flu or his hair is the wrong colour. Obviously, I have a huge character crush.

Then, I can’t proceed without mentioning the writing. Do you know what I love about Diana Wynne Jones’ writing? The fact that she doesn’t look down at her readers, doesn’t mollycoddle them, doesn’t make it easy: the story progresses with little to no exposition or explanations as the author completely trusts the readers to put things together and reach their own conclusions. I find this extremely revealing especially since we still seem to be living in a world where some authors who write for adults are still assuming that books for children are easy and puerile.

Which brings me to my final point:

Words. Howl’s Moving Castle is perhaps, at its heart a book about words, or a book that understands the importance of words. It is present in the clever writing but also in the plot in so many different ways: with puzzles, with songs, with words that hurt, with words that save, with curses, with self-inflicted harm that comes from believing in words. And then eventually, Sophie finds out that words ARE indeed magic.

Which is exactly what I love about Diana Wynne Jones’.

Notable Quotes/ Parts: Oh Howl, you crack me up so much. This is a scene where Howl tried to dye his hair (which is something that he does all the time).

Look at this!” he shouted. “Look at it! What has that one-woman force of chaos done to these spells?”

“If you mean me – ” Sophie began.

“I do mean you. Look!” Howl shrieked. He sat down with a thump on the three-legged stool ad jabbed at his wet head with his finger. “Look. Survey. Inspect. My hair is ruined! I look like a pan of bacon and eggs!”

Michael and Sophie bent nervously over Howl’s head. It seemed the usual flaxen colour right to the roots. The only difference might have been a slight, very slight, trace of red. Sophie found that agreeable. It reminded her a little of the colour her own hair should have been.
“I think it’s very nice,” she said.

Nice!” screamed Howl. “You would! You did it on purpose. You couldn’t rest until you made me miserable too. Look at it! It’s ginger! I shall have to hide until it’s grown out!” He spread his arms out passionately. “Despair!” he yelled. “Anguish! Horror!”

Additional Thoughts: In 2004, the book was adapted into a Japanese animated movie written and directed by Hayao Miyazaki. Although very different from the book, the movie stand on its own and it is equally wonderful.

Rating: 9 – Damn Near Perfection

Reading Next: Shadowed Summer by Saundra Mitchell

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50 Responses to Book Review: Howl’s Moving Castle by Diana Wynne Jones

  1. Jess Tudor says:

    Just watched this a couple weeks ago and the book is now on my TBR! Glad to know it’s different but still awesome.

  2. Nymeth says:

    :D

    *does the DWJ dance* (Why yes, there IS one :P)

  3. Kimberly B. says:

    This is one of my favorites! I love Diana Wynne Jones!

  4. [...] This post was mentioned on Twitter by The Book Smugglers and Roshni , Livia Blasi. Livia Blasi said: Fantastica recensione di Howl's Moving Castle di Diana Wynne Jones su @booksmugglers http://goo.gl/6nPOj (ancora non l'avete letto? :O) [...]

  5. Lesley D says:

    Great review! Howl’s Moving Castle is one of my favorite books ever.

  6. Elizabeth says:

    This is my favorite Dianna Wynne Jones! I use the term “slither-outer” to describe people all the time now. And it’s kind of impossible not to have a character crush on Howl.

    You should try the Dark Lord of Derkholm next — it plays with and subverts fantasy conventions in a hilarious way.

  7. Kendra P says:

    Love hearing others discover DWJ! As a school librarian, I’ve had her books on my shelves for years, but never read one. Gasp! That is until this past summer. I decided to read after Neil Gaiman talked of his love for DWJ on either his blog or twitter or both. Oh my, I can’t believe I never read until now. Love! I think only those that haven’t read her works can’t understand how special her works are. If you haven’t read her Chrestomanci books, I’d recommend them as well, especially CHARMED LIFE.

  8. Merideth says:

    This is the book that made me realize I shouldn’t be ashamed of reading fantasy books. :)

  9. I picked up HMC after seeing the movie, it was a bit confusing. Once I realized that the movie had made a huge departure from the book it was much easier read. Loved both theta book and the movie (love how the book uses one of my favorite poems), but it’s important to understand that it’s very different from the movie. I read House of Many Ways and enjoyed it, but didn’t know about Castle in the Air – I will be picking that one up.

    Fire and Hemlock also uses a famous poem (or fairytale) as a basis and it was fabulous!

    I would love to see what you think of Archer’s Goon as I had to read it several times in order to maybe understand it. In fact, I should probably read it again, because I’m still a little unclear…

    Jennifer (An Abundance of Books)

  10. KMont says:

    Because Howl’s Moving Castle has this je ne sais quoi, this Quality that I wish I saw more in the YA Fantasy novels I’ve been reading lately: for it has a Quality that speaks of Forever and I believe Howl’s Moving Castle will stand the Test of Time and be read by generations ahead of us.

    I know EXACTLY what you mean. You. Me. Right on the same level.

    This book sounds right up my ally. It sounds kooky and fun. 2011 reading should be more kooky and fun over at my place. I’m putting this in the buy lineup. Thanks so much for putting it in the spotlight.

  11. mb says:

    How lucky you are to just be discovering the wonderfulness of Diana Wynne-Jones! And lucky that there are lots of them to read through.

    Did you know that there are two more book that follow Howl’s Moving Castle? They are Castle In The Air and House of Many Ways. In both, Sophie and Howl appear again.

    I love all of her books, but favorites (beside CITA) are Charmed Life, Magicians of Caprona, Dark Lord of Derkholm, Year of the Griffin (sequel), and her two adult books A Sudden Wild Magic, and Deep Secret. Her short story collections are very enjoying and well worth getting your hands on.

    Lots of enjoyment ahead of you.

    She is being treated for cancer, I believe, and selfishly I hope that she will recover fast and provide me with many more hours of reading pleasure.

  12. mb says:

    Would Booksmugglers be interested in trying Terry Pratchett? Nation might be a good place to start as it’s a stand-alone, YA, and of a fairly serious nature.

    The Discworld series is amazing, but you really need to read it from beginning to end as characters and arcs grow, change and develop over the series. And frankly, the first few books are not great. He hits amazing once you get to Small Gods, IMO.

  13. Sylvia Sybil says:

    I love Howl’s Moving Castle! The movie and the book are two very separate beasts indeed. They change everything from the villain’s identity to the moral of the story.

    I second the recommendation for Dark Lord of Derkholm next. It’s about a fairy tale world that’s being run as a theme park for people from our world. :D

  14. Meg says:

    I just bought EIGHT books off of Bordes.com! *smacks head* I should always come here before purchasing books! Well, it is at least on my wishlst now…

  15. Dominique says:

    I discovered this book after first watching the movie by Studio Ghibli.

    LOVE IT!!!

    Sophie is my favourite heroine of all time!

  16. Michelle says:

    Her books are awesome. I love her Chrestomanci series also. I would recommend reading the Lives of Christopher Chant before Charmed Life. Also Conrad’s Fate is excellent, and the audioversion is also exceptional. (love,love, love the name Throgmorten (sp) for a cat)

  17. Kathleen Brown says:

    I’m so glad you liked this book! I always worry when people review Howl’s Moving Castle because SOME people don’t love it… And that makes me sad. It’s been my favorite book since the fourth grade, I’ve yet to find another book that I can reread as much, love as much, or has characters that stick with me like HMC.

  18. redhead says:

    great review!! I came to Diana Wynne Jones after I fell in love with the Miyazaki film.

    you got it spot on, DWJ writes in such a way that will stand the test of time. She is not a fad or a trend or a sub-genre that comes and goes. Our children and grandchildren will enjoy her works just as much as we do.

    And by the way, Studio Ghibli/Miyazaki have a TON of awesome films.

  19. Brandy says:

    I also love that DWJ does not mollycoddle her readers. In fact, it may be what I love the most. (And there is a lot to love). I’m currently reading the Dalemark books and I think these may be my favorite DWJ yet.

    I will be very interested to see what you think of Fire and Hemlock. It is, to me, the most different of all her books. I do love it though. It and The Perilous Gard are the best Tam Lin retellings of all time.

  20. Chachic says:

    Yay, you loved it! This book is one of my favorites. Howl is just hilarious. Do you remember the YA Fantasy Showdown last year? You’d be able to appreciate it more because the final match was Howl vs. Gen :P

  21. Maya S says:

    Yes! More DWJ love!

    After “Fire and Hemlock” (which I didn’t love, but haven’t read in a while so I may like it better now) you should definitely read “Deep Secret.” I think it may be one of my favorite books of all time. The heroine in particular is so out of the ordinary for most books that I adored her immediately.

  22. Tina says:

    I think it’s About Time for me to read this too. Bumping up my TBR now. :) You guys make me shuffle my to-read list way too often, but I’m not complaining. :)

  23. Roob says:

    Oh I’ve been having this book on my TBR too. Just did not go about reading it. I’ll bump it up :)

  24. Tina says:

    I am SO glad that you liked this. DWJ is one of my all time favorite authors. Howl’s Moving Castle has a special place in my heart because it was the first book I ever read by her and it was the first book where once I finished it, I immediately felt the need to pass it on to someone else. Eee so happy that DWJ is getting the love <3

  25. Alexandra says:

    I love DWJ so much. Love, love, love.
    So much love.

  26. Tiffany M. says:

    I loved Howl’s Moving Castle and other books by DWJ. And, though I love and understand the greatness that is HMC, my favorite DWJ novel is Dogsbody. The story holds a special place in my heart with its sweet and simple brilliance.

  27. MaryK says:

    I love this book. It’s one of my all time favorites of any genre.

    This is the kind of YA I like – one you can read and reread and get something new from it every time and where age is irrelevant.

  28. julie says:

    Your review has made me want to re-read the book, which I read in 1986! I love Diana Wynne Jones, and I am happy you are enjoying her books. Please read Archer’s Goon, it is still one of my faves.

  29. Amy says:

    I discovered Diana Wynne Jones last year and fell in love with her work. Howl’s Moving Castle was such a treat. Glad you enjoyed it!

  30. Kaya H says:

    I must say that the Miyazaki movie adaptation is one of my most favorite movies of all time. Thank you! I heart DWJ. I will go get that book asap and revel in its most awesomeness!

  31. Katie says:

    I love Diana Wynne Jones! She is by far my favorite YA/children’s author. Speaking of which, in relation to the article you linked, she wrote a very lovely essay about how you have so much more freedom in children’s books as an author, and how much more restricted she felt writing books aimed at adults.

    Here’s a link:
    http://www.suberic.net/dwj/medusa.html

    And a quote:
    “To take the most obvious first: I found myself thinking as I wrote, “These poor adults are never going to understand this; I must explain it to them twice more and then remind them again later in different terms.” Now this is something I never have to think when I write for younger readers. Children are used to making an effort to understand. They are asked for this effort every hour of every school day and, though they may not make the effort willingly, they at least expect it. In addition, nearly everyone between the ages of nine and fifteen is amazingly good at solving puzzles and following complicated plots – this being the happy result of many hours spent at computer games and watching television. I can rely on this. I can make my plots for them as complex as I please, and yet I know I never have to explain them more than once (or twice at the very most). And here I was, writing for people of fifteen and over, assuming that the people who read, say, Fire and Hemlock last year have now given up using their brains.”

  32. mb says:

    I use DWJ as a test case for potential friends/book lovers. If readers like her books, I know I’m likely to enjoy what they like and/or recommend to me.

    As a US citizen, I’m not up on the ins and outs of this, but really, why hasn’t she been knighted already? (Received the Queens honors or whatever it is called for Services to Literature. I.e made a life peer?)

    She’s amazing!! And well more deserving than a few others I could think of.

  33. Ana says:

    Hi everybody thanks for all the comments. It is heartwarming to see so much love for the book and for DWJ. This is truly what blogging is about :mrgreen:

    And to those who have yet to read this or any DWJ: doooooo it, you know you want to!

    Also: thank you for all the recommendations as well. I am REALY intrigued by Dark Lord of Derkholm but it seems to be out of print in the UK (the mind boggles.) Will look it up book depository next.

    and finally, @ Chachic: dude, NOW I understand the EPIC EPICNESS of that final. *faints*

  34. Gypsi says:

    This was the first Dianna Wynne Jones book I ever read and I became an instant fan girl too. I agree, it (and nearly everything she has ever written) is pretty darn near perfect. Try Hexwood next. Wow!

    I hated the movie for not being like the book, but at the same time I loved the movie on its own.

    So glad another person has found the magic of DWJ!

  35. Emy Shin says:

    I love your review — HOWL’S MOVING CASTLE is easily one of my favorite novels. I love Diana Wynne Jones’ seemingly easy way with words, and oh Howl. I haven’t met a reader who wasn’t head-over-heels for him.

  36. orannia says:

    Fantastic review Ana! I love this book. I only saw the movie last year – the first movie I’ve ever seen with Christian Bale (except I just heard him :) What a voice! *swoon*

    Did you know there was an indirect sequel to Howl’s Moving Castle?

  37. [...] Before I go back to it, I’m reading Howl’s Moving Castle by Diana Wynne Jones after reading Ana’s review and being further tempted by Janicu, who convinced me to go track down my copy.  That [...]

  38. Shelagh says:

    Great review Ana – Howl’s Moving Castle has been on my ‘To Read’ list for a while and thanks to your review has been bumped up a couple of places. :-)

    I just finished reading Enchanted Glass and loved it – I think you will enjoy it. The only other DWJ book I have read is Dark Lord of Derkholm and it is also a great read.

    Keep up the good work!

    Shelagh
    http://thewordfiend.blogspot.com

  39. [...] I purchased it one day when I saw it in the bookstore, but I was recently reminded I should read it when Ana raved about it.  With some further encouragement from Chachic and Twitter nagging urging from Janicu, I decided [...]

  40. Leire says:

    I love Diana! Howl’s Moving Castle is definetly one of my favourite of hers but I agree with Maya, in my opinion DEEP SECRET is the best book she’s written. Its more for adults and its absolutely hilarious, as well as very original.

  41. de Pizan says:

    Sad sad news

  42. Nureen says:

    Oh my god! This is one of my all time favorite books. I fell in love with it the minute I started reading. It was magical. The Miyazaki film was the best too (it’s one of my favorites).

  43. Sandeul says:

    Loooove the movie its my favorite :D my freiend just told me they had a book n i’m like “OMG I AM TOTALLY GOING TO GET THIS!” hahaahahaa i wanted to know more about the book n this website helped me alot! THANK YOU! ^^*

  44. Meggsie says:

    I just read the book after a recommendation from a friend and I have to say, this book is absolutely amazing. I can’t decide which I prefer more, the book or the movie. They are different but equally amazing. If anyone ever questions why he changed things around for it to be about a war between two nations and how war is stupid- I would suggest watching his Grave of Fireflies. Miyazaki has a lot of emotion targeted to war. I should read more of the books he’s based movies off of, I feel like I would probably see a pattern in things that he feels strongly about and his additions to the stories. The Secret World of Arrietty showed something about his beliefs of survival of the fittest theory.

    Back to the book–
    I absolutely loved it as I said above, however the ending was the only thing that bugged me. Upon reading “ending” I’ll assure you that I’ll do my best not to spoil anything.

    The whole book put forth such an effort to make Sophie oblivious to everything going around. The author makes a point in almost every chapter showing how she’s not putting two and two together or didn’t notice such and such… then at the finally there was no real revelation. I was hankering for a bigger ending similar to “Ella Enchanted”

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  46. Wow, this post is nice, my younger sister is analyzing such things,
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  47. Lorenzo says:

    Well, I have to say something.
    (Sorry for my poor english, I’m spanish and my english is the worst one)
    I comment this review because i’m very happy. I’ve been founding a review of this book around blogger in spanish for a long time but there are not any review who says something realy true about the book. Ican’t say this very well… Is like you understand really the same things in book that I see in.
    You are the only one who have a opinion nearly whose I have. I don’t know if you are going to read that, if you have closed your blog for a long time. Anyway, I have to write all.
    It’s amazing!
    Now I see, I’m not alone. In my country no one read this kind of writers and if they do it is because it’s trendy. I think i’m the one and it’s beautiful to see this is not real at all.
    I know, you probably can´t read all that because my english but I have to try to tell you this things.
    Nice to meet you, I will subscribe to your blog :)

  48. Ana says:

    Hola Lorenzo

    Glad to hear you liked the book as much as I did! : D

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