Howl’s Moving Castle is some of the most dangerous media you will ever consume, because it’s more addictive than caffeine. Reading the book or watching the excellent Hiyao Miyazaki movie guarantees you will want to either watch or read whichever one you didn’t just consume, and this process repeats back and forth theoretically forever. And it’s wonderful the whole time.
The novel takes place in a fairy tale world in all the best ways. Ingary resembles Europe immediately prior to World War I. Most technology is steam engine grade, but supplemented by magic. Seven League Boots are commonplace, and visiting your local magician is like visiting a tinker. Though the movie and book are different, one of the things I appreciate about the movie is the colorful pageantry on display in the world. It’s a world pre-ecological collapse and climate change, haunted by war but also blessed by artisanship, quaint villages, and festivals.
Sophie is the eldest sister, and as such has resigned herself to a life free of adventure or excitement, content (or at least she thinks she is) with a future keeping her father’s hat shop. That is, until the Witch of the Waste shows up, and curses her with the body of a ninety year old lady. In shock, she takes the only option she can imagine still safely available to her: find the legendary Wizard Howl, who with his proclivity for seeking the hearts of beautiful young women, will barely notice her ancient self, and maybe provide some employment.
Sophie’s adventures with Howl, his apprentice Michael, and his “tame” fire demon Calcipher, are hilarious from start to finish. Sophie enters their bachelor pad as a terrifying whirlwind of cleaning, order, and rules. Before long, she’s become an irreplaceable part of the household, and has even schemed to trade favors with Calcipher: break the curse binding his will to Howl’s, and he will break the curse keeping Sophie ancient and tottering. Diana Wynn Jones’ voice is perfect the whole way through, capturing the world-weary mind of an eldest sibling, the matter-of-factness to the magic that makes it feel part of the world, and using sardonic humor throughout, peppering the story with genuine laughs.
Read this book immediately, then go watch the movie, then repeat. I long to someday have a bonded pair of maine coon cats named Howl and Calcipher (black and orange, hopefully.)