Skip to main content

What's in a Name challenge review #1: Howl's Moving Castle

Have you read this book? Why not leave a comment to tell me how you liked it 😊

What's in a Name challenge category: A building.

Author: Diana Wynne Jones (1934-2011).
Genre: Fantasy, children's book.
First published: 1986.

I have long been a fan of the Hayao Miyazaki animated movie of Howl's Moving Castle, but I didn't become aware that it was based on a book until the author, Diana Wynne Jones, died in 2011. I had never heard of her until I saw her obituary in one of the British newspapers that mentioned her as one of the great fantasy authors, so I went to Wikipedia to find out more and discovered that she wrote Howl.

I made a mental note to check out the book if I came across it, and then forgot about it until recently. I was browsing discussions on one of the online reading forums I participate in and found one about favourite books and authors that mentioned Jones and Howl. Since I was getting ready to place an order for some books with the Book Depository, I added Howl to the order. The books arrived in due time and the first one I picked up was Howl. I barely looked up until I was finished reading it.

Sophie Hatter is the eldest of three sisters in a magical land, and everyone knows what that means: under the rules of fairy tales, she is doomed to fail in her quest for a happy ending. When the wicked Witch of the Waste casts a curse on her that turns her into an old woman, she sets off to find her fortune anyway and finds her way to the moving castle of the wizard Howl, where she begins to discover herself. But the Witch of the Waste is after Howl, and it's up to Sophie to help him escape the fate that the Witch has planned for him.

This is a charming and comfortable read, and I mean that in the best possible way. The story is a good mixture of humour and action, with plenty of little details thrown in for good measure. It is a children's book, which means that there isn't any sex and only mild horror near the end when the fight between How and the Witch ends, and every action scene gets resolved in a manner designed to thrill rather than frighten.

Sophie is somewhat of a mouse when the story begins: shy, timid and quiet, and it isn't until the witch of the Waste curses her to age into an old woman that she begins to find that she actually has backbone, determination and courage enough to strike out on her own and seek her fortune. She also discovers that as an old woman she no longer cares what people think of her, which she finds very liberating. She is a subtle and powerful witch, but has no idea of it until it is pointed out to her, but she has trouble using her powers because she is completely untrained.

The wizard Howl is an egotistical drama queen who is obsessed with his looks and loves having women fall in love with him but then abandons them for the next conquest. He is also a self-confessed coward and has a talent for slithering out of assignments and confrontations, but actually has plenty of courage when forced to face his enemies. At first he appears to be a complete narcissist, but over the course of the story he is shown to be caring and having a strong sense of justice, and this saves him from being a complete ass. He does not develop through the story so much as unfold, and he is still an ass at the end of the story - but a loveable one.

The background world in which Howl takes place is a vaguely England-like place, including the names of places and of people. No technology is ever mentioned, so one has to assume it to be based on pre-industrial England. There isn't a whole lot of world-building going on, but what there is, is internally consistent.

A lovely, thrilling, humorous, magical book, a definite keeper.


Popular posts from this blog

Book 40: The Martian by Andy Weir, audiobook read by Wil Wheaton

Note : This will be a general scattershot discussion about my thoughts on the book and the movie, and not a cohesive review. When movies are based on books I am interested in reading but haven't yet read, I generally wait to read the book until I have seen the movie, but when a movie is made based on a book I have already read, I try to abstain from rereading the book until I have seen the movie. The reason is simple: I am one of those people who can be reduced to near-incoherent rage when a movie severely alters the perfectly good story line of a beloved book, changes the ending beyond recognition or adds unnecessarily to the story ( The Hobbit , anyone?) without any apparent reason. I don't mind omissions of unnecessary parts so much (I did not, for example, become enraged to find Tom Bombadil missing from The Lord of the Rings ), because one expects that - movies based on books would be TV-series long if they tried to include everything, so the material must be pared down

List love: 10 recommended stories with cross-dressing characters

This trope is almost as old as literature, what with Achilles, Hercules and Athena all cross-dressing in the Greek myths, Thor and Odin disguising themselves as women in the Norse myths, and Arjuna doing the same in the Mahabaratha. In modern times it is most common in romance novels, especially historicals in which a heroine often spends part of the book disguised as a boy, the hero sometimes falling for her while thinking she is a boy. Occasionally a hero will cross-dress, using a female disguise to avoid recognition or to gain access to someplace where he would never be able to go as a man. However, the trope isn’t just found in romances, as may be seen in the list below, in which I recommend stories with a variety of cross-dressing characters. Unfortunately I was only able to dredge up from the depths of my memory two book-length stories I had read in which men cross-dress, so this is mostly a list of women dressed as men. Ghost Riders by Sharyn McCrumb. One of the interwove

Icelandic folk-tale: The Devil Takes a Wife

Stories of people who have made a deal with and then beaten the devil exist all over Christendom and even in literature. Here is a typical one: O nce upon a time there were a mother and daughter who lived together. They were rich and the daughter was considered a great catch and had many suitors, but she accepted no-one and it was the opinion of many that she intended to stay celebrate and serve God, being a very devout  woman. The devil didn’t like this at all and took on the form of a young man and proposed to the girl, intending to seduce her over to his side little by little. He insinuated himself into her good graces and charmed her so thoroughly that she accepted his suit and they were betrothed and eventually married. But when the time came for him to enter the marriage bed the girl was so pure and innocent that he couldn’t go near her. He excused himself by saying that he couldn’t sleep and needed a bath in order to go to sleep. A bath was prepared for him and in he went and