Monday, September 27, 2010

Book Review: Howl's Moving Castle [1986]

I am slowly but surely making my way through a theoretical list of books I should have read many years ago, and Howl's Moving Castle was definitely on that list. Reader, I very much enjoyed it! But I am getting ahead of myself.

Sophie is the eldest of three sisters, and expects (according to well-established fairy tale rules) to live an unadventurous life as a hat shop owner. However, fate intervenes in the form of the nefarious Witch of the Waste, who sees something potentially powerful in Sophie (that she can't quite see herself) and transforms her preemptively into an old woman. Despite being physically ancient, Sophie is incredibly stubborn and resilient, deciding that she will set off to seek her fortune. She ends up working as a housekeeper for the peculiar Wizard Howl, who appears to do nothing but groom his appearance and court women whom he discards as soon as they return his affection. Howl lives with his apprentice, Michael, in a floating castle with doors that lead into several different places (including Wales), powered and maintained by the magic of a cantankerous fire demon, Calcifer. With the Witch of the Waste looming as a formidable opponent (and cast-off lover), Howl does everything he can to avoid responsibility and a potential appointment as Court Wizard, even as he courts one of Sophie's sisters and circumstances threaten to put the little household directly in harm's way.

Grade: A

Howl's Moving Castle is a fascinating mix of traditional fairy tale, romance, fantasy, and comedy. The characters and setting are slowly and deliciously developed, and it's totally the kind of story where the dog that you help in the first act comes back to repay you in the third and everything is sorted out tidily.

Random Thoughts:

I'm not sure how I feel about the connection between Sophie's world and ours through Howl's doorway into Wales. I suppose creating the connection is a way of making the reader relate more sympathetically to Howl; seeing his family did give his character a necessary depth and humanity. However, it brought up a whole bunch of unanswered questions for me, such as how do people in our world learn how to cross over? Can non-magical people do it? What are the rules of magic in Ingary, anyway? Are they different in our world? And so on.

I am a sucker for chapter titles that start with things like "In which"--some of my favorites were "In which Howl expresses his feelings with green slime" and "In which there is a great deal of witchcraft."

I have the movie in my possession, I just haven't gotten around to watching it yet. I will update this post if/when I do.

ASK THE READERS: Should I read Castle in the Air and/or House of Many Ways?



Dead Mother: Yes (see above re: fairy tale)
Book Review Index

3 comments:

Cassandra Mortmain said...

I haven't read A Castle in the Air, but that's because Terri Shcmidt made her "Eh" face when I asked the same question of her and I trust Terri's taste implicitly. House of Many Ways, however, I did read and it failed to impress me at all. It wasn't bad, but neither was it at all noteworthy. I think your time might be better spent elsewhere, like with The Perilous Gard by Elizabeth Marie Pope, which I can't remember if you have or have not read. Stardust, by Neil Gaiman, is a good companion novel as well. Last but not least, I found the doorway into our world strange as well, but the romance was so delightful that I didn't mind.

Helgagrace said...

Yes, you gave me The Perilous Gard, and I enjoyed it very much. I have also read Stardust and liked it, although not as well as I liked either of the other two. Thanks, as always, for your excellent reader's advisory.

Cassandra Mortmain said...

I like it less, too. But it's definitely a read-a-like for Howl, and vice-versa.

As for ones you maybe HAVEN'T read:

The Folk Keeper by Frannie Billingsley?
Quest for a Maid by Frances Marie Hendry?