Despite this being something of a modern children’s classic, I’d never before read Howl’s Moving Castle or seen the movie. It was very different than I expected. I found it to be a fun read but somewhat difficult to follow along with.
Sophie is the eldest sister of three girls. So she knows she isn’t going to have any successful adventures. She lives with her step-mother (possibly wicked) and her two younger sisters, running a hat shop after their father dies. They are struggling to make ends meet when Sophie unexpectedly runs afoul of a witch and is turned into an old woman.
Somewhat against her will, Sophie sets out on an adventure. She meets the wizard Howl, who dwells in a castle that moves about the kingdom, his apprentice Michael, and his fire demon Calcifer. Howl is said to steal the souls of young girls but of course Sophie in her old woman form is safe from that.
Sophie is a lovely character. She is smart and charming but also just oblivious enough to keep the plot going when she doesn’t quite put all the pieces together. She lives in a world where fairytale rules hold true but of course this is a story that tosses many of those tropes on their head.
There’s a lot of world building done here by Wynne Jones and for the reader who enjoys Sophie and Howl and their kingdom, there are other books to go on and read. As someone who doesn’t read a lot of fantasy, I found it all a little confusing. Howl has a decently complex history that Sophie begins to piece together and there are several background characters that I kept mixing up. There’s also a lot of physical action, especially at the end, that I simply had trouble visualizing. I’m interested to see if the movie illuminates some of these scenes for me.
While I personally wasn’t completely engaged in this novel, it was still a fun read and I can see why it’s become a modern young reader classic. For middle grade readers who love fantasy and fairy tales, Diana Wynne Jones is definitely an author to check out.