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Book/Movie Review: Howl’s Moving Castle by Diane Wynne Jones

Title: Howl’s Moving Castle

Author: Diane Wynne Jones

Series: Howl’s Moving Castle #1

Genre: YA Fantasy

Rating: 2/5 stars

The Overview: Sophie has the great misfortune of being the eldest of three daughters, destined to fail miserably should she ever leave home to seek her fate. But when she unwittingly attracts the ire of the Witch of the Waste, Sophie finds herself under a horrid spell that transforms her into an old lady. Her only chance at breaking it lies in the ever-moving castle in the hills: the Wizard Howl’s castle. To untangle the enchantment, Sophie must handle the heartless Howl, strike a bargain with a fire demon, and meet the Witch of the Waste head-on. Along the way, she discovers that there’s far more to Howl—and herself—than first meets the eye. -Goodreads

The Review:

I may be the only person on the planet who hadn’t seen the Studio Ghibli adaptation of Howl’s Moving Castle, but in a way I’m grateful because it gave me the ability to tackle the book with an unbiased opinion. And I’m glad it did because the book was just okay.

And actually, after watching the movie and seeing all the story elements brought to life and enhanced, I found myself looking back on the book with more fondness. What surprised me is how closely the movie kept to the source material. All of the major elements were included, even down to exact quotes on occasion. All save one component: the romance.

In the book there was a connection between the main characters, but their focus was always on others and rarely on each other, lacking any sort of depth. It was kind of odd, and I think that lack of interpersonal connection is the reason I found the story a bit lackluster – it never felt like we were working towards anything meaningful, and so all of the smaller plot points felt, well, pointless. The movie did a brilliant job at adding in what was missing by giving the viewer a through-line to root for (i.e. are they going to end up together?).

I loved the movie. The visuals were stunning, the story components expanded on and enhanced, and the flow and momentum of the pacing perfectly on point.

And the dog. Omg.

In both versions I loved the main character, Sophie. She had a lot of depth and both formats did a great job highlighting certain aspects of her mannerisms. Particularly how her personality changed with different circumstances. The basic premise of the story is this young girl gets changed into an old woman. Watching Sophie deal with the ramifications of that and face her own mortality brought out this beautiful narrative of perspective – where she realizes life’s too short to be held up on petty concerns and starts to speak her mind, not worrying about what others think. It wasn’t a heavy-handed theme, but even so it resonated with me profoundly.

Overall, I think experiencing these two versions in tandem enhanced them both. Because I’d read the book and seen the components the film makers were working with, it make me appreciate their choices on what to adapt and how to make it better. So many brilliant decisions that honored the book and made the movie into the beloved classic it has become.

Recommendations: while the movie was easily my preferred format for the story, reading the book allowed me to appreciate it even more. If you’ve already seen the movie, the book probably won’t add any depth or interest to your experience. However if like me you’ve the new to both, reading the book first will make you appreciate the movie even more.

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