Of all the Miyazaki films I have loved before, Howl’s Moving Castle is not one of them. However, upon discovering that the original source material was a young adult fantasy novel by Diana Wynne Jones, I decided to give it a shot, as it is filled with the things my younger heart would have loved. Witches? Wizards? Magic? A minimal romantic subplot? Yes, please!
Already smitten with the book by what little I knew about it, I ultimately found it a charming and convoluted tale in the best way possible. I am often wary with young adult literature, but this, while clearly meant for teen readers, is imbued with the spirit of children’s literature. I was delighted to see seeds that Jones had planted early in the novel under the guise of decorative exposition crop up later in the novel.
The only downside to Jones’ pleasantly meandering prose was that it made deciphering certain parts of the story difficult. For example, the curse the Witch of the Waste places on Howl has several parts that are easy to forget. This means that each time another part of it comes into play, our protagonist Sophie has to explain why a particular event holds significance. Thankfully, Jones doesn’t belabor the point when this happens, and allows a simple statement from Sophie or another character suffice.
I’m disappointed that I didn’t discover this book sooner, or better yet, read it as a child. As a main character Sophie is stubborn, sassy, and opinionated. The aging curse placed on her by the Witch of the Waste is more beneficial to her than one might initially assume; though she is physically impaired, she becomes far more confident as a result of no longer having to care what others think of her.
We also discover after her encounter with Ms. Penstemmon that Sophie has the ability to “talk life into things,” which is important to more than just the plot. Sophie, having thought herself powerless, discovers that she does indeed have control, not just over other things, but her own fate as well. She has been raised to believe that as the oldest child she is doomed to a life of mediocrity, and, as her words hold power, the more she believes this the more she makes it so. She soon discovers that she is in control of her own fate, regardless of her magical ability or birth order.
Between the magical charm and dynamic characters, some of which were not even human for most of the book, there was so much about Howl’s Moving Castle that was enjoyable and refreshing. It’s is what I imagine the Harry Potter series would have been like if Hermione had replaced Harry as the primary protagonist. Unfortunately, female leads like Sophie can be hard to find in kids lit if you don’t know where to look, and I wish more writers would create characters like Sophie Hatter.