The Story: Sophie is one of three sisters who live with their mother. Together they operate a hat shop with dying business, only separated when Fanny decides to send off the girls to find their fortunes and hopefully make it easier for all of them. Sophie works day and night with a patient fervor until the day when the mysterious Witch of the Waste steps into the shop and curses her. Suddenly Sophie is an old woman whose bones ache and creak. In order to fix her curse, she flees into the wilderness where she encounters the monstrous edifice known to belong to the wicked wizard Howl. Here she meets the fire demon Calcifer, who promises to help break her curse if she will break his. Sophie agrees, not knowing that such a bargain will lead her into a deeper world of magic, mystery, and duplicity then she could ever imagine.
My Thoughts: I’d never seen any material about Howl’s Moving Castle before I saw the film recently with some friends. While I enjoyed the film, I was left with multiple questions and thought the book would possibly answer them. While Diana Wynne Jones does offer up some quality entertainment in her novel, the book hardly answers all the questions the movie presents. The book is definitely superior in certain ways, but if you don’t intend on ever reading it, take a look at the spoiler thoughts below.
Spoiler Thoughts: In the book, Howl courts many girls with wild abandon and is described as leaving them as soon as he’s caught them. This is a facet of his personality that is rather absent in the films, but makes much more sense when it comes to the contract between him and Calcifer. In order to save Calcifer (who was originally a dying star), Howl gives him his heart. This apparently seems to be what a fire demon is in the book, a star who was saved from extinction by being given a wizard or witch’s heart. In addition, the world that Sophie inhabits appears to be an alternate reality to our own, as Howl comes from the normal world. There is so much more that I could go over, but it seems that both book and film struggle to deal with explaining everything that they contain.
Parental Advisories: I believe Howl swears once in the book (“hell”) and for parents who try to avoid fantasy stories for their children, this is a definite no-no. The book also mentions demons, dark magic, and spirits, but never really gets deep into this side of the story.