I don’t know how many times I’ve read Howl’s Moving Castle. At least three, but probably more. If books were comfort food, this one would be creamy mac-n-cheese in a ceramic bowl on a cold winter’s day. It never gets old, it never gets dated. It is always exactly what it needs to be; which is a romping good time.
For those who’ve not yet indulged in this delight, Howl’s Moving Castle follows Sophie, a young woman who inadvertently angers Ingary’s resident bad-witch and gets herself cursed into an old woman. She is the eldest child, and in the country’s beliefs, is the least likely to have a good life anyway, so Sophie takes her situation in stride and decides to find whatever kind of fortune she can. She runs across Howl’s Castle, owned by the self-proclaimed Wizard ‘bad-boy’ who’s been known to eat the hearts of beautiful young women. But Sophie’s not scared because she’s an old woman now, and really, she needs a place to rest her legs. She beats her way into the castle, inserting herself into Howl’s life and ends up on a roaring adventure to free a fire demon, squash the Witch of the Waste, and keep her sisters from Howl’s wizardly clutches. Little does she know the ending waiting for her.
One of the things I most love about this book is that Sophie is an old woman for 99% of the story. There are very few fantasies about older women doing old lady things, but Jones takes the idea and sprints with it. Sophie is a delightful mix of the embarrassed and shy young girl she is inside with the give-no-craps attitude of the 90-year-0ld she is outside. Watching her run Howl’s life is the great amusement of this story, and the effervescent freedom Jones has by using an older character is brilliant and wonderful. One of my favorite quotes from the book is:
“As a girl, Sophie would have shriveled with embarrassment at the way she was behaving. As an old woman, she did not mind what she did or said. She found that a great relief.”
Sophie’s time as an old woman gives her the onus to be the hero of her own story, and there’s something wonderfully refreshing about that.
P.S. the Studio Gihbli version of Howl’s Moving Castle is totally worth the watch.