Howl’s Moving Castle by Diana Wynne Jones is one of those books I read as a grown-up and wished I had discovered as a child. It stuck with me enough that when I saw that the Folio Society had produced a copy I needed to get it, and whilst I missed the first print (nobody took the Christmas present hinting I did…) I managed to get it on the reprint and so had a re-read of it this year.
A lot of people will come to this book via Studio Ghibli and whilst that is an excellent film there are enough differences that the book can be regarded as a separate experience.
By all appearances it’s the tale of the oldest daughter of three – Sophie Hatter – who knows she will have a dull life because she is the oldest (and in fantasy worlds it’s always the youngest who will make their fortune). So when Sophie is cursed by a witch to appear old she “runs” away and steals into the moving castle of Wizard Howl. Howl, who by all accounts, steals the hearts of women and is evil and a coward. Howl, who is apparently chasing after Sophie’s younger sister whilst also falling for his nephew’s teacher Miss Angorian, and avoiding his duties to find the King’s missing brother and to destroy the Witch of the Waste.
Of course nothing is quite what it seems and part of the joy of this book is realising how Sophie can be so wrong about so many things because of her own negativity and feelings of inadequacy. On a first read it’s delightful to gradually realise you are seeing Sophie’s perception of events and to take that mental step away and look again from another perspective. The last chapters where events are resolved are a delight in reframing your opinion of Howl and how he has behaved.
It’s a lovely fairytale that stands up to multiple readings as the twists aren’t the point, they’re more there for Sophie rather than the reader. There is just joy in a well told story that understands the value of how fairytales can be misinterpreted even by those who are living in them.