Howl’s Moving Castle has been one of my favourite films ever since the very first time I watched it and now I fell head over heels for the book it’s based on. The last book I read – Treasure Island – took me months and this one I finished in a single sitting. And after I was done with the very last page, I already thought about re-reading it. So, now I obviously have to do a book review.
“How about making a bargain with me? I’ll break your spell if you agree to break this contract I’m under.”
Howl’s Moving Castle was written by Diana Wynne Jones and first published in 1986.
In the land of Ingary, where seven-league boots and cloaks of invisibility really exist, Sophie Hatter attracts the unwelcome attention of the Witch of the Waste, who puts a curse on her. Determined to make the best of things, Sophie travels to the one place where she might get help – the moving castle which hovers on the nearby hills.
But the castle belongs to the dreaded Wizard Howl whose appetite, they say, is satisfied only by the hearts of young girls …
Because I loved the movie so much, I couldn’t wait to get backstories and more details about everything that happened. Of course, I expected things to be a bit differently, as it’s always the case with adaptations, but the story that was told in the book felt like a completely new one.
The basics are the same: the location, the main characters and core of the plot – Sophie breaking the contract between Howl and Calcifer, so the latter breaks the curse she’s under.
But literally everything in between is different. There’s of course Sophie’s backstory and a bit more set up than in the film. The castle is described very differently than what it looks like in the movie (but I definitely prefer the Ghibli-version). Love plays a bigger role as well as Sophie’s sisters. Even the main antagonist is someone else, but I’ll come back to that later.
Besides all of the differences, there are a couple of parts that are very much the same as in the film or at least you can see where the movie drew its inspiration from. For example, Sophie getting hit on by a soldier in town at the beginning, her pretending to be Howl’s mother or them moving the castle into Sophie’s old home.
The thing, that made it feel very different to the movie – and what might be the reason I prefer the book plot over the movie one – is the fact that it’s actually kinda light-hearted when you compare the two.
In the second half of the movie, war is an ever-present threat – and in combination with a certain witch – the main antagonist.
In the book however, war is mentioned only a single time. Basically, the king says at one point: ”Yeah, we might declare war if this or that happens”. That’s it. Never mentioned again. The main villain in the book is who you expect it to: the Witch of the Waste.
In the back of my copy the author answers some questions about the book series itself as well as the movie adaptation; the inclusion of war was addressed as well. Both Diana Wynne Jones and Hayao Miyazaki were children in World War II and have very different reactions to it. Jones purposefully leaves the actual war out “because we all know how horrible wars are”, whereas Miyazaki includes it (in combination with his obsession for flying machines) “to represent both the nastiness of a war and the exciting scenic effects of a big bombing raid”.
World War II has always been a topic I’m very interested in and love to learn about, but I do prefer Jones approach in this case.
Some aspects that I never really liked that much in the movie – mostly Howl being this massive bird-creature in the “tunnel” in his room and the time travelling – do not happen in the book. Talking about the time travelling, this part always felt kinda off to me. I absolutely love the scene where you get to see young Howl and the shooting stars and the music and little light figures dancing, but the way Sophie gets there felt – as I said – always a bit off. So, I wasn’t too sad about the fact that it happens differently in the book.
I said at the beginning, that the main characters are the same. That isn’t untrue per se, but the movie versions are definitely toned done in comparison to their book counterparts.
Howl is extremely vain. He still is in the film, but it isn’t his defying character trait; he comes off way nicer in the movie whereas in the book he cares mostly about his looks and girls. In the book Makel (his original name is Michael – again, definitely prefer the Ghibli-version) even has to keep a secret money dash because Howl immediately spends everything he earns on his looks.
Sophie’s original character is one of the best things about the book. She truly is an old lady who’s got nothing to loose. And she talks exactly like you would expect one to. I genuinely found myself laughing out loud while reading all her sassy comments. There’s also a lot more of Howl and her bickering.
One thing I never even thought of while watching the movie, is Howl’s backstory. While we don’t get the full picture in the book, we definitely get a good glimpse at it, which left me very confused and extremely curios. I won’t say anything more on that matter, because I want you to experience it without a single teeny tiny spoiler. I’d love to read an entire book on how he got to where he’s now.
As you can tell, I am very fond of both the book and the movie and would highly recommend either of them. I definitely want to re-read the book to catch all the hints and foreshadowing, but before I’ll do that the two sequels are next on my list. The second book of the series, “Castle in the Air” (not to be confused with Studio Ghibli’s “Laputa: The Castle in the Sky”), already waits on my night stand for me and I can’t wait to read it.
Now I can very surely say I found my favourite book!
Have you read the book? If so, what to you think of it on its own and in comparison to its movie adaptation? Let me know in the comments.
Love, Jacky N.