I don’t read YA or children’s books much, but I couldn’t bring myself to read a “serious” book after Min Jin Lee’s Pachinko, so I finally decided to read my copy of Diana Wynne Jones’ fantasy novel Howl’s Moving Castle.
I admit that I bought a copy of this book only because of the anime movie by Hayao Miyazaki, and surprisingly, the two are very different. Most of the main characters from the book , such as Howl, Sophie, Calicifer, and the scarecrow, are present in the movie, with a few exceptions. The setting and mood are more or less the same, but the anime is a lot weirder than the book and explores other angles, such as the war between kingdoms, which was only mentioned in passing in the novel. Another major difference is the Witch of the Waste is the major antagonist in the novel, whereas Wizard Suliman (whose appearance is based on Wizard Penstemmon, How’s tutor, in the book) is the main baddie in the anime. The movie also has a lot of strange elements, such as blob men and weird blomb-dropping aircrafts, and even Howl is very different in the anime in terms of character and appearance. By contrast, the book deals more with mundane affairs in the life of a wizard, such as Howl’s personal and love life, and reveals very surprising details, such as Howl’s country of origin.
However, the most unexpected element in the book is the link between Howl’s curse and John Donne’s poem “Song.” Coincidentally, I analyzed this poem back in high school when I wrote a paper about John Donne. I don’t recall now why I chose him for my paper, considering that he’s pretty obscure where I come from. From what I remember, the gist of the poem is that a true and faithful woman is as rare as catching a falling star or a mandrake root. A bit strange, considering how Howl is the only character who is far from being faithful and true.
Overall, it was a fun and entertaining read, and most important, it took my mind off the depressing events in Pachinko (which, I don’t recommend you read during a pandemic). I also learned that Howl’s Moving Castle is part of a three-book series and is followed by Castle in the Air and House of Many Means. The two books feature different characters, but the main characters from Howl’s make an appearance. I enjoyed the Studio Ghibli movie, but I think I like the novel better in spite of or maybe because of their marked differences.
Howl’s Moving Castle (1989) – Diana Wynne Jones
Personal rating: 4.5/5