Hatters, Spells, and Poetry! REVIEWING: Howl's Moving Castle

Welcome back to The Real World According To Sam. Today I'll be telling you about a book (astonishing, right?). But wait!!! This isn't just ANY book. Oh no, not by any means. This is a good book. In fact, I'd easily call it a VERY good book....but before I can tell you about the book, I need to mention a few other things.

The author of today's book is Diana Wynne Jones. I've never read a Diana Wynne Jones novel until now....however, I hear that she was a very good author, especially of fantasy books. She also won a few awards, so that's always a good sign.

Also, the book I'll be reviewing today is a very popular animated feature. Anyone familiar with the work of Hiyao Miyazaki will know exactly which one I speak of. This book was adapted into a cartoon by Studio Ghibli (google them, they do some really interesting work), an animation studio based in Tokyo Japan. They have a partnership with the Disney company, in order to have their cartoons more widely distributed. I can't help but include that they have some of the best animation that I've seen in cartoons lately. They go for a more classic, traditional style that has been passed up here in the States due to computer technology. Computer animation is great and all (like Toy Story and Cars), but it isn't the only form of animation that can be used. I find classic animation to be much more appealing and artistic.  I digress, Studio Ghibli has had many popular films including, Nausicaa of the Valley of the Wind, Spirited Away, My Neighbor Totoro, Ponyo and Princess Mononoke. Arguably, one of the most popular is Howl's Moving Castle. And here, ladies and gentlemen, is where I shall begin the review.

Howl's Moving Castle
Author: Diane Wynne Jones
Genre: Fantasy
Year of Publication: 1986

Let me just say something right off the bat before I really get started here. I have never seen the animated feature by Studio Ghibli for this book. Shame on me, yes, I know. I was actually checking out the movie when I found out about this book. So no, I didn't even know that it was a book either. How did I find out? Easy. When I checked out the DVD, the librarian said that she didn't know that it was a video and that she really enjoyed the book. Bells shot off ringing in my head, "Ohmygosh what?! It's a book? Who wrote it? Does this library have it?" Did I ask her any of those questions? No. I went online, accessed the library's catalog and searched for the title. Luckily enough, they had it available and I picked it up soon after.

That's the story of how I came to read this book. Why don't we get to what the book actually is about and what makes it good?

Howl is a wizard...a fearsome wizard. He eats the hearts of young girls. He lives in a castle.....that moves (you had to see that one coming, right?). Sophie is the eldest of 3 sisters. That's already bad news for her. Eldest sisters are.....well, to put it bluntly, pretty much screwed. They are the least likely to be successful (Hey wait....I'm the eldest child....darn it!). Oh well. Sophie's family runs a hat shop. So she could technically be called a mad hatter, I suppose. Her mother died when she was young and her father remarried and had more kids. One? Or was it two? Either way, there are 3 daughters total, and the stepmom. Her two younger sisters are sent off to seek their fortunes elsewhere and Sophie gets stuck with the shop. The stepmom does whatever it is she does while Sophie works. But wouldn't you know it, the Wicked Witch of the Waste decides to come and mess with Sophie....and Sophie ends up cursed. She's old now. She looks just like an old lady and her life has been severely shortened. So what does she do? What any cursed old person would do! She goes away to see if she's better off elsewhere. She runs into a scarecrow and a dog and winds up at Howl's door, which she enters since there's no point in being afraid of him since she's old and he pry won't want to eat her heart. What happens next? I'm not saying, but its very entertaining and makes for a great story.

Howl is a very interesting character. I enjoyed reading about him a whole lot. His way of being just makes me laugh. Sophie is feisty and.....loves to clean. It's what she does for a lot of the book, but never did it bother me or get tiresome. I don't mind her cleaning and being nosy for half the book (I'm actually being totally honest, no sarcasm intended). Calcifer is such a great character. I think he has one of the most interesting stories I've heard for side characters. He's really not much of a side character at all. He shares the spotlight with Sophie and Howl. Michael is funny. I like the way he runs around sometimes, like a chicken with its head cut off. He gets so concerned and flustered.

The best thing...is that all of the characters are different!!! They have their own thicker-than-paper personalities. Each character, not just the main ones. The sisters, the stepmom, the main characters, the villainous character. They are all very distinct and distinguishable. That was awesome.

The setting...how do I even start here? I liked the scenery. All the places that serve as settings in the book are pretty neat. The coolest thing, though, in regards to setting and scenery, is Howl's castle. I mean...WOW. What a neat, intriguing idea. It can move but it has several doors that open to different spots? That's just genius.

But I can just hear you asking me "what about the plot?". Well, dear reader, let me tell you. I really greatly enjoyed the plot. At first, I didn't quite see where it was going, but once I found out I was psyched and so excited to see what was to come. I was hooked from the start, because Jones just knows how to write a gripping book. It wasn't chalk full of adventure from the start, but it was interesting and made me want to read more about Sophie. The best thing was that it was more about Calcifer than anyone else really! The way all the puzzle pieces come together was just so cool. I especially like the use of John Donne's poem "Song". I've heard it before, but never have I seen poems used in a book as a way of urging the plot forward. It's a big part of the book and I will never read it the same way. Plus the extra little bits of romance were just perfect to make me an all around happy reader. This book was just loaded with things that made me happy.

Here is the important part of the poem:

"GO and catch a falling star,
Get with child a mandrake root,
Tell me where all past years are,
Or who cleft the devil's foot,
Teach me to hear mermaids singing,
Or to keep off envy's stinging,
            And find
            What wind
Serves to advance an honest mind. "

 I really like the beginning of this poem, because all it does it list impossible things (it reminds me of Alice in Wonderland...thinking up 6 impossible things before breakfast). Howl's Moving Castle only uses the first stanza, which is my favorite part of the whole thing. The rest of the poem is irrelevant to the story and rather annoys me as a whole, so I'm just going to leave it out from here and not waste the valuable typing space I have. I actually had to read this for my 17th Century Prose and Poetry (English) class. Ironically, it was just after I finished reading this book....don't you just love life's little coincidences??

Overall, I say that this book is one that just DEMANDS to be read. I give Howl's Moving Castle a marvelous Lone Star rating of ✯✯✯and a half. So you should go and read it....I highly recommend it. Why is it not a 5? I don't know....I just needed a little bit more at the end. I wanted some more sappy sweetness. That would've been sooo great and would've made this book a definite 5. But it comes super close and was way enjoyable, earning it a remarkable 4.5 stars. Read it, I'm sure you won't be too disappointed. I plan on watching the movie pretty soon so I'm hoping that it's really good. Hopefully it'll add some more dimensions to the book and make me notice things and make connections where I hadn't while reading it. Fabulous book. I would DEFINITELY read this book again. As a matter of fact, it happens to be part of a trilogy. The public library here has a copy of the second book, so you can bet that I'll have to read it at some point!

Thanks for coming to The Real World According To Sam and reading this review, come back soon for more!!!