Home School Book Review, March 02, 2012
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The first time I ever heard of this book was in 2006 when we lived in St. Louis, MO, and Jackson Pierce, a friend of our younger son Jeremy with whom he played homeschool baseball, gave the following report in the St. Louis Homeschool Network newsletter. “A long time ago, I had seen ads for the movie Howl’s Moving Castle. A few days ago, I saw the book at Borders bookstore, so I bought it. The book starts: ‘In the land of Ingary, where things as seven-league boots and cloaks of invisibility really exist, it is quite unfortunate to be born the eldest of three. Everyone knows you are the one who will fail first, and worst, if the three of you set out to seek your fortunes.’ The main character is Sophie Hatter, the oldest of three sisters. Her parents own a hat shop in a town called Market Chipping. She has two sisters. Her mom died when she was two years old and her sister, Lettie, was one year old. Their dad married an assistant from the hat shop named Fanny and Fanny had the last baby, Martha. Now one day, their father died. Fanny sent Lettie to be apprenticed at Cesari’s, a pastry shop in Market Chipping, and Martha to a witch named Annabel Fairfax. Sophie must stay and work in the hat shop. It turns out that Martha and Lettie had switched places and used a spell to make them look like each other. Now it just so happens that there was an evil witch named the Witch of the Waste. Sophie doesn’t know that the woman is the witch at first, and insults her, and when the witch leaves, she curses Sophie into looking (and sometimes feeling) like as woman 90 years old! So Sophie goes to the one place that could help her: Wizard Howl’s Moving Castle. It’s called a ‘moving castle’ because it literally moves around. The castle had moved near Market Chipping before Sophie had been cursed, so it wouldn’t be too much of a walk. But I’m going to stop here, as not to give anything else away. The book is very well written, and is kind of long, but it should only take you 2 or 3 days to read it if you are a fast reader. It is suitable for children of all ages, but that’s expected because they made an anime (Japanese animation) movie of it. If you don’t want to be too disappointed by the movie, watch it first (it doesn’t look very accurate). So in conclusion, I think this book is very good and won’t put you to sleep when you read it.”
That is a pretty good summary of the plot. A few years later, after we had moved from St. Louis to Salem, IL, we picked Howl’s Moving Castle, made from the book in 2004 by Hayao Miyazaki, for a family video. The film generally follows the book, but as Jackson noted there are some major differences. I read several reviews by people who actually liked the movie better than the book. The main complaints about the novel are that it is has poor character development, flimsy story lines, implausible plot devices, and too many words yet not enough real description. Personally, I found the book well-written and generaly easy to read with a fair amount of excitement, but I did note a few concerns. First, the plot has an almost “absurdist” quality to it. That doesn’t necessarily make it bad, but some people may not care for that sort of story. There are some common euphemisms, such as “drat” and “confound it,” a few curse-like terms (“damnation” and “Hell’s teeth”), and one instance of the word “Lord” used as an exclamation. Howl has as reputation as a womanizer, courting girls until they fall in love with him then dropping them for someone else but nothing sexual is actually implied. References to drinking beer, brandy, and wine occur, and Howl comes home drunk once towards the end. If you prefer not to have your children reading books which contain magic or witchcraft, you would obviously want to avoid this one. I do make a distinction between books which I believe promote an interest in the occult, such as Harry Potter, and those where the magic or witchcraft is simply part of the fictional setting of a story. Howl’s Moving Castle comes about as close to the former as possible, and only the “absurdist” nature of the plot might keep it from falling into that category.
Author Diana Wynne Jones, was born in London, England, on August 16, 1934, the daughter of Marjorie (née Jackson) and Richard Aneurin Jones, both of whom were educators. She is a British writer, principally of fantasy novels for children and adults, as well as a small amount of non-fiction. Some of her better-known works include the Chrestomanci series. Her books range from a broad, almost slapstick delight in the construction of absurd-yet-logical situations, especially evident in the endings of some of her books, to sharp social observation, to witty parody of literary forms. Foremost amongst the latter are her Tough Guide to Fantasyland, a non-fiction work on clichés in fantasy fiction that has a cult following as a reference among writers and critics, despite being difficult to find due to an erratic printing history, and its fictional companion-pieces Dark Lord of Derkholm (1998) and Year of the Griffin (2000), which provide a merciless, though not unaffectionate, critique of formulaic sword-and-sorcery epics. Charmed Life, the first book in the Chrestomanci series, won the 1977 Guardian Award for Children’s Books. Archer's Goon (1984), a Boston Globe - Horn Book Honor Book and World Fantasy Award for Best Novel nominee, was adapted for television in 1992. According to her autobiography, Diana has been an atheist since she was ten. Howl's Moving Castle won a Boston Globe-Horn Book Award and was named an ALA Notable book for both children and young adults. A sequel, Castle in the Air, was published in 1990. A second sequel, House of Many Ways was released in June 2008. Both are also young adult fantasy novels set in Ingary, though the two works are only loosely related to Howl's Moving Castle.