Author: Diana Wynne Jones
My rating: 5 of 5
Wizard Howl’s evil ways are so rampant that word of them reaches even to the back room in the hat shop where young Sophie Hatter spends her days making hats (which may or may not be magical). It is said he eats the hearts of young girls! But when Sophie accidentally falls afoul of the determinedly evil Witch of the Waste–who turns her into an old woman who can’t tell anyone she’s under a curse–Sophie wanders into the hills where Howl’s castle magically roams. And upon encountering this magical castle, Sophie lets herself in and befriends/bullies Howl’s fire demon, Calcifer, much to the chagrin of Howl’s assistant Michael. Surprisingly, wizard Howl doesn’t oust her from the castle the moment he returns home–although he doesn’t exactly give her a warm welcome either–so Sophie sets herself up as a long-term house guest and cleaning lady. It turns out that all those rumors about Howl eating hearts are just that–rumors spread by Michael to keep townsfolk from bothering Howl. Sophie quickly finds out that Howl isn’t actually evil at all . . . just selfish and vain and noncommittal as can be. How vexing!
How could anyone not love Howl’s Moving Castle? It’s one of my absolute favorite books ever. The concepts behind it are fascinating: a castle magically powered to wander the hill country, a door that opens to different places at different times, a curse you can’t talk about. Plus the delightful way Jones weaves all the different threads of the story together so that they fit just right in the end but are an enigma throughout the story. And of course, this tale is full to bursting with strong (temperamental) characters: Sophie with her nosy, opinionated ways–and her tendency to be a bit of a bully. Howl in all his vanity and womanizing and slithering out of situations–transformed from a sick, sad character into a wondrous one by his insight, kindness, and incredible skill. (You know, Howl reminds me remarkably of the Doctor now that I think about it. Odd.) Then there’s Calcifer with his tricksy cleverness–somehow you can’t help but like him. And nearly buried under these incredible characters are any number of other excellently developed individuals that you only really notice on a second or third reading: Sophie’s creative, determined sisters; Howl’s assistant Michael, who is actually a really nice guy with a lot of character when you get around to actually noticing him; and any number of others as well. Seriously, read Howl’s Moving Castle. Then go back and read it again, because as great as it is the first time around, it might just be even better the third and fourth time.