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Howl's Moving Castle by Diana Wynne Jones

By 13:23:00 , , , ,

"How about making a bargain with me?" said the demon. "I'll break your spell if you agree to break this contact I'm under."

In the land of Ingary, where seven-league boots and cloaks of invisibility really exist, Sophie Hatter attracts the unwelcome attention of the Witch of the Waste, who puts a curse on her. Determined to make the best of things, Sophie travels to the one place where she might get help - the moving castle which hovers on the nearby hills.

But the castle belongs to the dreaded Wizard Howl whose appetite, they say, is satisfied only by the hearts of young girls...

Pages: 302 (paperback)
✱ Publication date: 1986
✱ Howl's Moving Castle #1

This is one of the only middle grade books I will probably ever feature on this blog, but I feel like a) this one is worth it, and b) so many people have seen the film based on this that they deserve to know more about the book. I should probably add a slight disclaimer though: I've reread this book a dozen times since I was a kid, so I may be slightly biased.

Sophie, Howl, and the Magic

Sophie Hatter is one of my favourite protagonists - ever - because I see a lot of myself in her. She believes herself unlucky, and the most important thing for her to do is to make sure her two younger sisters are fine. She's self-sacrificing, cares too much about others' expectations, and doesn't believe in herself, at all. It took me a decade to realise that the reason I loved her so much was probably because I enjoyed seeing her grow out of from under all the expectations piled on her, to become her own person.
The Magician, Howl, is temperamental, childish, and a slitherer-outer, according to  Sophie. They are very different characters, but somehow they end up getting to know each other, and getting along despite their clashing personalities.
The Magic in this universe seems to be very different depending on who is wielding it, and it's a really interesting concept to me. There are curious magical creatures and happenings in the story: a fire demon, a spell that ages a person by about seventy years, a magical castle with doors to different worlds.

Why do I love it so much?

It's a world where good can conquer evil, where magic exists, and where stories seem to be important to people when they are coming to terms with their own identity. I think the dialogue and the story-telling are wonderful, and I like the pacing. It's like a fairy-tale but in slightly longer form, and like the best fairy-tales, I think it has a lot to say about people in general. I also love that the chapter titles summarise what happens without giving things away. For example, 'Chapter One In which Sophie talks to hats,' or 'Chapter Nineteen in which Sophie expresses her feelings with weed-killer.'
If you're still not convinced, let me send a few quick quotes your way:
“I make that four horses and ten men just to get rid of one old woman. What did you do to the King?”
“Nothing is safe from you. If I were to court a girl who lived on an iceberg in the middle of the ocean, sooner or later— probably sooner— I’d look up to see you swooping overhead on a broomstick. In fact, by now I’d be disappointed in you if I didn’t see you.”
“Are you off to the iceberg today?” Sophie retorted.
“I've got a hangover!"
"No, you hit your head on the floor," Sophie said.
Howl rose up on his hands and knees with a scramble. "I can't stay," he said. "I've got to rescue that fool Sophie."
"I'm here!" Sophie shook his shoulder. "But so is Miss Angorian! Get up and do something about her!”
Howl's Moving Castle is my happy place. This was what I turned to when All the Bright Places utterly destroyed me, and it worked. It's a quick, feel-good kind of read, and I'd definitely recommend giving it a go, especially if you're a fan of the Ghibli movie!
Have you read the book or watched the film? If you're a Ghibli fan, tell me your favourite movie! :)

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