I read Howl’s as the last Book Club title for 2015. I’d meant to read it for years now, and finally managed it.
I have to say, I’m so very sorry that I put it off for so long.
Howl’s Moving Castle is one of those stories that is more than a simple book. There’s magic, in the literal sense, since Howl is a wizard, but the story itself is told with such whimsy and an air of old fables that reading its pages makes you feel, instantly, as a child.
Sophie is one of three sisters, and as the oldest, she’s doomed to a boring life inheriting her Stepmother’s Hat Shop. Turns out, that’s no so terrible, since Sophie has a knack for hats. She sits and sews and molds them, talking all the while, and the hats sell like mad.
On her way to visit her sister, she stumbles into a handsome young man who immediately shows an interest in her. This terrifies the timid Sophie, and she hurries on her way. She soon forgets the man as she talks with her sister, and then returns to her lucrative hat business.
But, all that changes when the wicked Witch of the Waste visits Sophie’s shop, and after a dissatisfying purchase curses Sophie into an old woman.
As an old woman, Sophie decides that the only person who might be able to help her in the slightest is the dread Wizard Howl. He’s renowned for eating the hearts of young, beautiful women, but Sophie figures she has nothing to fear from him now, wrinkly as she is.
So she sets off to find his moving castle, encountering a lopsided scarecrow on the way, which she rights as she speaks kindly to it. Once inside the castle Sophie meats Michael, Howl’s teenage apprentice, and Calcifer, the demon that lives in the fireplace.
Surely, by now, you understand that this novel has whimsy leaking out of every line.
Anyway, Sophie makes herself at home, and promptly strikes up a bargain with Calcifer. He has entered a contract with Howl, which he wants out of. If Sophie finds a way to negate the contract, Calcifer will help her out of her own curse.
The details are sparse, but the accord is struck, and Sophie uses the excuse of the filthy castle to convince Howl to let her stay. And so she stays, cleaning and listening, learning as much as she can of Howl and his life in the castle, hoping to find some hint as to his and Calcifer’s agreement.
But, as time goes on, Sophie finds herself thinking less and less about curses and pacts, instead living day to day in the castle, taking care of its residents. This includes the Wizard Howl, who is far from the terrifying Casanova his reputation would have her believe.
Part flamboyant magician, part petulant man-child, and part awesomely powerful wizard, Howl is endearing in the way only the truly irritating, yet good-natured can be. In turns a hopeless romantic, an arrogant fool, and a shockingly relatable man, Howl is a fascinating character. And as the tale goes on, Sophie and the reader alike find themselves less interested in the supposed plot than in the life that is living in the moving castle.
This is intentional on the part of Ms. Jones, by the way. The plot seems to melt away as characters are developed, arguments are had, and frustrations slowly give way to affection. By the time all the pieces come together, you’ve forgotten why you’re even there.
Without spoiling too terrible much, the ending of this book is fantastic, and made me cry. All the odd ends and wayward bits turn out to have been entirely on purpose, and perfectly placed. It’s only revealed to the reader in the last five pages or so, and it’s very whirlwind, but it all ties together with a flawless red ribbon.
Howl’s Moving Castle is a fairy tale. A glorious fable to be read to little ones as they drift off to sleep. Or to be cherished by adults who still foster some sense of childlike wonder in their hearts. This is a book that I must own, and that I will revisit multiple times over the course of my life. A reminder that not all magic is bright and flaring, and that there are all kinds of love and devotion.
This story reminded me very much of Stardust by Neil Gaiman, though it was published over ten years before Gaiman’s own romantic fairy tale.
This is probably my shortest review yet, but honestly, there’s nothing about this book I could say that would truly do it justice. Read it. Please. If you have any appreciation for whimsy, wonder, and romance, you won’t be disappointed.