Howl’s Moving Castle has more of a fairy tale feel than most of the other DWJ books I’ve read, but it’s not really a retelling of any particular tale. The main character is Sophie Hatter, the oldest of three sisters. In fairy tale convention, of course, this means that she will be the least successful if the three of them were to seek their fortune. She believes in this wholeheartedly, and works at the family hat shop, resigning herself to seeing that her two sisters Lettie and Martha achieve their dreams. But the thing is she has the power to talk life into things, and since she talks to the hats and tells them things like “you will marry into money” which turns out to be true for the women that eventually buy the hats. Unfortunately, this sets Sophie up as a potential rival to the Witch of the Waste, as she is interfering with witch’s business.
The Witch finds Sophie and curses her, turning her into an old woman. While in shock Sophie leaves her house and goes to seek her fortune, ending up in the Wizard Howl’s moving castle, where she makes a pact with a fire demon to break his contract with Howl, and have him break her curse in return. Oh, and the Wizard Howl is the vainest drama queen I have encountered in fiction, which somehow makes him adorable rather than annoying, I don’t know why.
I really have no idea the number of times I’ve read this book, but I know it’s a lot. The first time was in high school, and then I read it at least once a year for sometime. I did a thesis on Cinderella stories for my BA which had a chapter on HMC, so I definitely reread the book a lot around that time. And yet, as always is the case when I reread DWJ, in this reread I found pockets of moments and conversations that I don’t remember ever reading before. With each reread, something new that was probably a minor detail to me before suddenly has a huge significance to me now. I still don’t know how DWJ did it.
(Other) things I especially love about this book at the moment:
1. Sophie. She is absolutely perfect, and by that I mean flawed and complex and absolutely amazing. I love her slow growth to self-awareness, and the fact that everyone else seem to already know how awesome she is anyway, and how she handles Howl’s tantrums, and the way she accepts/exploits her curse.
2. The fact that Sophie starts out as a young woman who feels somewhat trapped by her life, and that it’s old age that eventually frees her. I really like how she feels like she could act and say things she wouldn’t normally do, because she isn’t as concerned about how others would think. Her old age also makes you think about perspective, how young!Sophie would have thought of a middle-aged man as “old”, but the probably-about-ninety!Sophie thinks of him as a young man.
3. Howl. He is easily one of my favourite male DWJ characters, with all of his self-absorption and cowardice and dramatic tendencies.
4. John Donne’s “Song: Go and catch a falling star”, and how it’s used in the book. I don’t think I noticed the poem all that much (other than its use in the plot) in my first couple of reads, but the more I reread this book the more I appreciate how the Witch used it for Howl’s curse. Which brings me to:
5. The fact that the wizard Howl Pendragon is really Howell Jenkins from Wales. It makes me want to read a book about his past – from how he first discovered his magical abilities, to the first time he went to Sophie’s world, and perhaps right up to when he first meets (and saves/catches) Calcifer.
6. The funny. And the awesome. This may be the most quotable DWJ book in my reread so far, giving entire scenes I want to read out loud, to gems like “My shining dishonesty will be the salvation of me.” Someone make me a button badge of that quote, please.
7. Sophie’s sisters. Lettie and Martha don’t appear much in the book (and only Lettie appears in the movie) but I like them both. They’re both much stronger minded than Sophie and are sensible enough to not pay attention to the same fairy tale convention that restricts Sophie. And I love how Lettie is going to be a witch herself (yes, I’d also love to read a Lettie book.)
8. Howl’s niece is called Mari! (Kit and I have this weird in-joke kind of thing where we say all the Maris of the world, fictional or real, are different aspects of the same person. So we always look out for and point out to other Maris when we find them, from Marisha Pessl to Mari Ness to Marina Warner to Mariko Yashida to that Mari’s Rock shop in Takeshita-dori. Yes, we’re weird that way.)
9. The way the book sneaks in so many different things into one story and have turn out to be something that can be a completely light read, but also a much richer one. I enjoy the very DWJ-esque theme where characters end up creating their own family and people turning out not to be what they seem, but it has all these other stuff happening in the background, like the (possible) war that was brought out in the film version.
10. The fact that the book begins with describing all these fairy tale conventions as absolute truths, and then goes about going against each and every one of them.
By the end of this reread I decided that I could just go on reading and rereading Howl’s Moving Castle forever, and I wouldn’t get bored, although of course I’d run out of things to talk about… eventually. My original copy of the book had the cover with Howl holding his guitar, but I lost it (I think a cousin “borrowed” it) and my current copy may be the worst HMC cover in existence. I’m thinking of replacing it with the Greenwillow edition which is much nicer, but looking through the HMC tag on Pinterest I find that what I really want is a gorgeously illustrated hardback of the book, which of course doesn’t exist.
After my reread I flipped through the Japanese edition of HMC – which was originally published as The Wizard Howl and the Fire Demon and now reprinted as Howl’s Moving Castle 1 (Castle in the Air and House of Many Ways are HMC 2 and 3.) I didn’t reread the Japanese version all the way through, instead just going through my favourite parts. I also rewatched the animated movie by Studio Ghibli, which I had found lovely but confusing on my first watch. I don’t know if it’s just because I just read the book, or because this time I’m watching without subs (and therefore had to really listen) but I enjoyed it more this time around. I appreciated all the small details added in, even though a lot was changed. And Kimura Takuya as Howl is always a good thing, as well as young!Kamiki Ryunosuke as Michael ♥! This reminds me to start watching Kimutaku’s latest drama, but I guess that’s for a different post on a different blog 😀