Howl’s Moving Castle is written by Diana Wynne Jones. It was published in 1986 by Greenwillow. Jones’ website can be found here.
Genre: Fantasy, Middle Grade
“Sophie lived in the town of Market Chipping, which was in Ingary, a land in which anything could happen, and often did—especially when the Witch of the Waste got her dander up. Which was often.
As her younger sisters set out to seek their fortunes, Sophie stayed in her father’s hat shop. Which proved most unadventurous, until the Witch of the Waste came in to buy a bonnet, but was not pleased. Which is why she turned Sophie into an old lady. Which was spiteful witchery.
Now Sophie must seek her own fortune. Which means striking a bargain with the lecherous Wizard Howl. Which means entering his ever-moving castle, taming a blue fire-demon, and meeting the Witch of the Waste head-on. Which was more than Sophie had bargained for…”
She settled herself more comfortably, putting her knobby feet on the fender and her head into a corner of the chair, where she could stare into the colored flames, and began dreamily considering what she ought to do in the morning. But she was sidetracked a little by imaging a face in the flames. “It would be a thin blue face,” she murmured, “very long and thin, with a thin blue nose. But those curly green flames on top are most definitely your hair. Suppose I didn’t go until Howl gets back? Wizards can lift spells, I suppose. And those purple flames near the bottom make the mouth—you have savage teeth, my friend. You have two green tufts of flame for eyebrows…” Curiously enough, the only orange flames in the fire were under the green eyebrow flames, just like eyes, and they each had a little purple glint in the middle that Sophie could almost imagine was looking at her, like the pupil of an eye.
“Mrs. Fairfax is a family friend,” said Sophie. “How was I to know you would be there too?”
“You have an instinct, Sophie, that’s how,” said Howl. “Nothing is safe from you. If I were to court a girl who lived on an iceberg in the middle of an 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. “From the look on Lettie’s face yesterday, there’s nothing that need keep you there!”
“You wrong me, Sophie,” Howl said. He sounded deeply injured. Sophie looked suspiciously sideways. Beyond the red jewel shining in Howl’s ear, his profile looked sad and noble. “Long years will pass before I leave Lettie,” he said. “And in fact I’m off to see the King again today. Satisfied, Mrs. Nose?”
“Go to bed, you fool,” Calcifer said sleepily. “You’re drunk.”
“Who, me?” said Howl. “I assure you, my friends, I am cone sold stober.”
Recommended Age Range: 12+
What I Liked:
Diana Wynne Jones is my absolute favorite fantasy writer. I have read almost every single one of her books, and have enjoyed almost every single one of them. Howl’s Moving Castle is among my top favorites of her books, and is also one of the first books by her I ever read. It is top-notch, wonderful, creative fantasy at its finest. What I like a lot about Jones is that she almost never dumbs down the plot for her audience. This book could be read by twelve-year-olds, but it’s not written for twelve-year-olds. The plot is complex and a lot is going on behind the scenes. And yet Jones makes it exciting, understandable, and engaging. She always has a unique fantasy world with unique rules, her plots are always more complex than they let on, and she has a great humor and wit to her writing that makes everything really delightful to read.
I love the fact that at the end we realize just how great of a wizard Howl is and that he’s not nearly as stupid/ignorant/in the dark as Sophie thinks he is. It impresses us, the readers, because the entire time we’ve been seeing him through Sophie’s eyes, and it is at that moment that we get a glimpse of the complexity of not only Howl, but also the plot and the world that Jones has made. Seemingly unrelated events suddenly connect. Innocent actions or words become important (such as Calcifer’s hints. Read the book again after you finish it, and you’ll start picking up on a lot of foreshadowing).
Howl and Sophie. Howl and Sophie. When Calcifer mentions that he will only believe that Howl is truly in love when he spends less than an hour in the bathroom, you just sort of file it away as an obscure detail. But then, when you read about how Howl goes to the Witch’s fortress to rescue Sophie, unshaven, it just clicks (which, like I was mentioning above, is a wonderful thing I love about Jones, how great she is at minute details). I never noticed it until this read-through, and I almost immediately went “Awwwww.” Another great thing about this relationship is that Sophie was an old woman for almost all of it. And no, this does not mean that Howl fell in love with an old lady. He knew almost right away that Sophie was not actually an old woman. It means that he fell in love with Sophie because of her character, not because of her looks, and that is a wonderful, wonderful thing.
What I Didn’t Like:
The plot is a little too complex, at times. I must admit, even though I’ve read it before, a few times I scratched my head and went “Huh?” It all made sense in the end, of course, but at the time, it was really obscure.
Howl’s Moving Castle is amazing, plain and simple. It is one of my favorite fantasy books, written by my favorite fantasy author. It’s funny, the plot is wonderful, the characters are instantly likeable, the interaction between them shows a lot of development, and Howl and Sophie are one of the strangest, but cutest couples ever. If you’ve never read this masterpiece, you need to.
You can buy this book here: Howl’s Moving Castle
And here’s the movie: Howl’s Moving Castle
Coming Up Next: If I Tell by Janet Gurtler