Diana Wynne Jones: Howl’s Moving Castle

Howl.jpgHowl’s Moving Castle
by Diana Wynne Jones
(fantasy)

I had read this book before, and thought it was neat but weird. Then I saw that it was made into a movie (a Studio Ghibli animation, and well worth seeing if you’re interested in the genre or this specific book) because Mr. Wyrm had it on his DVD shelf. So I got him the book for Christmas, since he’d never read the source material. And then I promptly forgot everything about the book, except for the curse, the witch, and the scarecrow. (Well, and that I liked the character of Howl, though I had forgotten why.) So, when Mr. Wyrm and I decided to watch the movie version together, I got to approach the whole thing again with a new perspective… but it got me wondering how the movie differed from the book. Which naturally meant I had to re-read it.

The plot gets a bit convoluted, but here’s a very quick non-spoilery break-down: Sophie gets cursed with old age by a witch, and leaves her town to go seek her fortune. She gains entry into the titular moving castle, fortress of the wizard Howl, and makes a bargain with the fire demon there that she will break his contract with Howl in return for him (the fire demon) lifting her curse. Hijinks ensue (magical and otherwise).

That is actually the plot for both; in the beginning the movie sticks very close to the book. There are a few minor changes (in the book, Sophie has two sisters, compared to only one in the movie; the book also endangers both of her sisters more than the movie does) but the beginning is much the same. Later on, though, there are definitely changes. The most notable to me is the flight: Hayao Miyazaki, the film’s director, is known for his fantastical flight scenes, and since there aren’t any in the book, he adds some to the movie. There are other changes, too. Without getting specific enough to give much away, here are a few of those: the movie has characters accepted as friends which aren’t in the book; the book goes into more detail about why Sophie must be the one to break the contract between Howl and Calcifer (the fire demon); and the finding of the missing person(s) is resolved slightly differently.

One of my favorite characters from the book – the dog – isn’t in the movie in quite the same way. There is still a dog in the movie, but the character is different. Then again, one of my favorite characters from the movie – the scarecrow – isn’t given the same treatment in the book, either. The three main characters (Sophie, Howl, and Calcifer) are given essentially the same treatment in each, however. The book gives their backgrounds more explanation, but they are pretty much unchanged between the two.

All told, though, I enjoy both the book and the movie. I’m not sure which I prefer. They both fit their mediums and genres in ways they wouldn’t fit the other’s. (Re the genre: I think the movie is geared toward a younger audience than the book, though the book is still probably considered a YA novel. I’m not really sure on its classification, that’s just my impression of it. And of course, that’s not to say that adults can’t enjoy both, and get much more depth out of them than kids can.) One thing I noticed about the book that I don’t remember from last time is that the whole premise for this story started with the author being told to “write about a moving castle”. So she did. And it was the basis for a really fun tale.

Rating: 5 stars

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