Monday 21 May 2018

Review by Amirah Mohiddin of "Howl's Moving Castle" by Diana Wynne Jones

Diana Wynne Jones’s terrifically funny Howl’s Moving Castle has long been eclipsed by other fantasy novels of our time. Published in 2001, it humorously pokes fun at the traditions of fantasy and fairy tales. This pleasantly chaotic novel that can be universally enjoyed by all ages has been shelved behind more popular books for too long. I say, no more!

Jones’s extraordinary novel begins with Sophie being cursed into old age. She runs away from home and ends up at Howl’s castle. To the people of Ingary, Howl is known to eat young girls’ hearts. This doesn’t stop Sophie, though. She sees Howl for the eccentric and ridiculous man that he is. And so their banter begins, as Sophie looks for a cure to her curse, whilst also learning more about magic and Howl.

Sophie is an incredible protagonist. She is witty and strong. She is one of my all-time favourite characters (I definitely say that too often about a lot of characters). But I don’t think there’s ever been a character so blasé about being cursed into old age that they would essentially react along the lines of meh, it could be worse. Sophie fiercely argues with Howl, and gets exasperated with Calcifer, the little fire demon with his vague hints. She has the heart of a young girl, but the body and wit of an old woman.  We’ve all had those grandparents, or elderly friends that said whatever they wanted. That’s Sophie! She takes no prisoners as she says exactly what she wants and means, effectively turning Howl’s life upside down. Poor Howl, in response, can do nothing against Sophie - other than throw a tantrum because he accidentally dyed his hair ginger because of her.

Jones’s characters are irresistible. They are so ordinarily extraordinary. Word by word, sentence by sentence, I found myself deeply engaged in the narrative, interacting with the characters to the point that I was arguing or laughing along with them. And that’s where the charm is. They argue, they laugh, they’re infuriating, making them so much more than characters and more like family, so we stick with them, even whilst they go on dangerous missions and make ambiguous deals with little fire demons.

To be honest, my interest in this novel started with Studio Ghibli’s movie with the same name. Though they follow a loosely similar plot, the novel and movie feel like separate entities to me. It is in reading this novel that I became involved with the narrative, retelling it to myself, rolling my eyes at Howl’s dramatics and reliving the laugh-out-loud moments.

Diana Wynne Jones deserves a place in the fantasy writer’s hall of fame for her riveting Howl’s Moving Castle. This charismatic novel crosses boundaries of target audiences, as readers young and old will both inevitably find that when they read the last sentence they’ll be itching to begin the book again, just as I’m about to do now.

About the reviewer
Amirah Mohiddin, born in Birmingham U.K, is an MA Creative Writing student. She specialises in fantasy, speculative fiction and magical realism.

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