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Howl’s Moving Castle by Diana Wynne Jones Review

Sophie has the great misfortune of being the eldest of three daughters, destined to fail miserably should she ever leave home to seek her fate. But when she unwittingly attracts the ire of the Witch of the Waste, Sophie finds herself under a horrid spell that transforms her into an old lady. Her only chance at breaking it lies in the ever-moving castle in the hills: the Wizard Howl’s castle. To untangle the enchantment, Sophie must handle the heartless Howl, strike a bargain with a fire demon, and meet the Witch of the Waste head-on. Along the way, she discovers that there’s far more to Howl—and herself—than first meets the eye.

How many words can I use to express how much I loved this book?

First of all, we have an unusual heroine in Sophie. She’s in her 90s! Well, actually, she’s the eldest of three sisters in in her 20s, but a magic spell by the Witch of the Waste turns her into an old woman. To return to normal, she decides to seek out the evil wizard Howl. There are rumors he eats young girls’ hearts, but since she’s a hale old woman, he wouldn’t want her.

She meets the fire demon Calcifer before she meets Howl, and Calcifer promises to break her spell if she can break the contract he has with Howl. Sophie agrees.

What follows is a riveting tale that winks at fairy tales tropes, fantasy tropes, alludes to Tolkien and turns several fairy tale tropes on its head. Sophie is down-to-earth, stubborn, and steadfast, which when combined with the self-absorbed and flakey Howl makes for hilarious scenes. The other two inhabitants of the moving castle, Michael and Calcifer, have their own quirks that make for hilarity. There’s a certain wit and sarcasm to Sophie, combined with her inability to care what other’s opinions are, that make her a fun character to read.

Sophie

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Art by LaurenGreiner

“Now she was finding that there were some things she could only do when there were no excuses left.”

“As a girl, Sophie would have shriveled with embarrassment at the way she was behaving. As an old woman, she did not mind what she did or said. She found that a great relief.”

Sophie as a young adult was almost timid in the way she acted. After her sisters left and she and her stepmother Fanny attended to the hat shop, she became a shut-in, talking only to hats. When she had her transformation, her inhibitions left her, whether due to her age or the fact that as an old lady, she was no longer the “Sophie” she knew herself as, and became more self-assured and confident.

I particularly loved reading her point of view. She’s sassy and hilarious.

Howl

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This fanart by J-LiAnne is absolutely perfect at showcasing Howl’s vanity and how his hair indicates his moods.

“Of course you hate getting angry!” [Sophie] retorted. “You don’t like anything unpleasant, do you? You’re a slitherer-outer, that’s what you are! You slither away from anything you don’t like!”

“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!” [Howl] spread his arms out passionately. “Despair!” he yelled. “Anguish! Horror!”

“My impression,” said the King, “was that Howl is an unprincipled, slippery rogue with a glib tongue and a clever mind. Would you agree?”

“Or had Howl slithered out so hard that he had come out right behind himself and turned out what most people would call honest?”

Howl is second only to Sophie as my favorite character. He’s dramatic. He’s vain. He’s self-serving. He’s rude and an eternal playboy, only interested in the chase and discarding women the moment they return his affections. On paper, he’s a horrible romantic lead. But as the story goes on, his quirks become less annoying and more loveable. We find that a lot of things we assumed were him being horrible were actually not.

Him being upset about having ginger-colored hair is particularly hilarious because Sophie’s hair (before turning into an old woman) was the same color. Well, he changes hair color several times throughout the course of the story, but that’s in line with his vanity.

He’s also aware of her gifts and talents, and through his odd ways, encourages her for the better. It’s something you don’t realize until the end and you go back and think of what happened. I love little realizations like that.

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Taka0801 credit

Sophie + Howl =

“I’m the eldest!” Sophie shrieked. “I’m a failure!”
“Garbage!” Howl shouted. “You just never stop to think!”
[…] “And you’re too nice,” [Howl] added, […]. “I was relying on you being too jealous to let that demon near the place.”

As a couple, Sophie and Howl bring out the best of each other by exposing the worst of each other. They’re both not people to hold back on their feelings, and their honesty is how they become closer. Sophie herself fails to realize what’s going on with her feelings until late in the story, but when she does, she turns her worries to ensuring Howl is happy, even at her own expense. This is both in line with Sophie’s personality and a sign that she’s maturing.

Howl keeps his secrets to himself until the bitter end, but when he’s finally honest with her, knowing what would happen when he did, shows his progress. Even when Sophie had no clue of her abilities, he did, and did what he could to foster them. He even took pains to ease her suffering when she didn’t notice. Contrary to his personality, he did these things in secret, and there’s a certain sweetness to that.

 

Everything in the ending comes together beautifully. We have Sophie, who assumed certain things, get her world rocked when she realizes she was wrong about everything the entire time. Even Howl, who seems insufferable, proves to be an admirable and caring man. I admit I went back and reread the ending another two times after I finished, I enjoyed it all that much!

 

Rating:

heart1heart1heart1heart1heart1

holllywhat My heart scale is defined as follows 5 hearts = a story everyone will fall in love with, regardless of preferences; 4 hearts = a well-done story that people who love the concept will adore, and people who don’t may end up liking it; 3 hearts = if you like this type of story or this type of hero, then you will enjoy this, but those who do not like either of those things will probably not; 2 hearts = it had potential, it squandered it; 1 heart = just a waste of time from the get-go; 0 hearts = why was this made?

This is the first novel I’m giving five hearts! This book is considered a classic for a reason, and it’s something I feel anyone at any age will enjoy. I simply adored reading about the world, Sophie and Howl, and even the side characters and their stories. Sophie’s sisters have their own small subplots that are just as fun to read.

There’s also an animated movie, but as the old saying goes “The movie is good, the book is better.” But I also recommend watching the movie. It’s gorgeous to look at, and it’s fun to see Sophie and Howl interact, even though they’re not quite 1:1 their book counterparts. The movie compliments the book.

 

Favorite Moments:

As usual, these have spoilers.

 

“On the other hand, it is quite a risk to spank a wizard for getting hysterical about his hair.”


This followed a rather hilarious scene where the vain Howl accidently turns him hair color to… ginger! But in actuality, it ends up turning pink! Hahaha~

 

“He’s got both feet in the grave and I’ve only got one,” [Sophie] consoled herself.

This is a good example of her sass.

 

“Howl said, “I think we oughto live happily ever after,” and she thought he meant it. Sophie knew that living happily ever after with Howl would be a good deal more eventful than any story made it sound, though she was determined to make it try. “It should be hair-raising,” added Howl.
“And you’ll exploit me,” Sophie said.
“And then you’ll cut up all my suits to teach me,” said Howl.

This is part of the ending, but a small part. Don’t worry, there are many more sugary sweet moments between the two to “d’awwwwwww” about~

 

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Here’s another great fanart by Anylon

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Misspaperjoker did a fantastic moody piece.

 

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While Taka0801 captured their personalities perfectly.

 

3 thoughts on “Howl’s Moving Castle by Diana Wynne Jones Review”

  1. So, I read this due to your recommendation and just adored it!

    It’s funny you compared Howl to Oz+’s Oz, because it’s really apt… Howl is somehow even MORE vain than Oz but ends up infinitely more likable. They are examples of the same character type done insanely well and insanely poorly.

    This book left me with a warm heart. I love that it was very romantic without actually being a romance book.

  2. I haven’t read this since I was a kid, I’ll definitely go back for another go.

  3. He is also the first one to recognize Sophie’s incredible ability to talk life into the world around her, which is the reason he allowed her into the castle in the first place and was so eager to make a bargain with her – if anyone but she were to break the contract he had with Howl, then Calcifer would die.

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