Years and years ago, I watched the Studio Ghibli production of Howl’s Moving Castle, and enjoyed it, as I enjoy most of their films. But I never read the book, and it wasn’t really on my radar, until I was scrolling endlessly through Libby looking for a new audio book. As luck would have it, I was in the mood for something light, and Howl’s Moving Castle definitely fit that bill.
Though the book is named for the enigmatic Wizard Howl and his castle that mysteriously roams the countryside, our main character is actually Sophie Hatter. Sophie is one of the more charming fantasy heroines around. She loves and looks after her two younger sisters, until her stepmother sends them out to seek their fortunes. Sophie, as the eldest, is destined to stay home and take over the hat shop that is the family business. Sophie is well on her way to becoming a ghost of her own self working away in the hat shop, until the day the Witch of the Waste comes into the shop. Sophie manages to insult the Witch so badly that the witch curses her: turning her into an old lady, and further preventing Sophie from telling anyone that she is cursed.
As it happens, this curse is exactly what Sophie needs to push her out of the hat shop and into the world, starting a grand adventure. But she doesn’t get quite so far into her adventure as she hoped before her now-old bones start to ache, and she really needs a rest. In desperation, Sophie spies the eponymous moving castle and manages through a combination of trickery and brute force to make her way inside – so she can sit down and have a rest. The adventures really take off from here, as Sophie learns about magic and wizards (or at least, one rather dandyish wizard), and really leans into the old lady schtick.
This is a delightful fairytale with a truly earned happy ending. People are mostly revealed to be mostly good. Sophie’s transformation into an old woman allows her to throw off all of her own preconceived notions about her place in life, and to really come into her own. There’s also a fairly extensive subplot that didn’t show up at all in the movie, which added a nice surprise when reading the book.
This is such a big-hearted book, and a perfect antidote to a string of pretty terrible thrillers. I’ll definitely be picking up the other books in the trilogy!