HOWL’S MOVING CASTLE By Diana Wynne Jones
The Folio Society, h/b, no price stated
Reviewed by Matthew Johns
I was familiar with Howl’s Moving Castle, having seen the 2004 Studio Ghibli animated film many years ago. I remember finding it an interesting tale, but as with many film adaptations of the written work, the original source material is a completely different kettle of fish (so to speak).
Originally published in 1986, this version from the Folio Society is a beautifully bound hardback with a lovingly executed illustration of Howl’s castle and the character Sophie across the hardcover, enclosed in a hardback slipcase with more wonderfully evocative images from the excellent Marie-Alice Harel. Yet more of Harel’s illustrations are found within the pages, with lovingly detailed full-page colour illustrations of crucial events found at various points.
The story itself is very close to the film’s plot, but with some key differences – I’d assumed the film came from a Japanese source material, but as the author’s name may suggest, that is not the case. In the book, while everyone knows the wizard as ‘Howl’, his name is actually ‘Hywel’ – he’s Welsh! Howl lives in a castle that moves around constantly. He’s cultured somewhat of a reputation, with many believing that he collects young girls and either sucks their souls or eats their hearts.
Sophie and her two younger (and prettier) sisters, Lettie and Martha, are split up after their father dies. Lettie is apprenticed to a local pastry cook, while Martha is apprenticed to a witch. Sophie, who has always just accepted what life gives her with a sense of resignation, is apprenticed to her stepmother Fanny, working in the family hat shop. Sophie finds herself making hats day in day out, with nothing to break the monotony until a wealthy customer comes into the hat shop. Sophie loses her temper with her, and the customer reveals herself as the Witch of the Waste. She curses Sophie and turning her into an old woman. With the curse also preventing her from talking about it, she sees no alternative but to leave the shop, her home and the town. As an ‘old soul’, she makes peace with the curse very quickly, seeing her new outer visage as an accurate reflection of how she’s always been.
Sophie soon finds herself seeking somewhere to stay and comes across the titular moving castle. As an old woman, she decides that Howl won’t want *her* heart, so she lets herself in. There she meets Michael, Howl’s apprentice and Calcifer, a fire demon bound to Howl’s fireplace and powering the castle. Calcifer can see that Sophie is under a spell, so he makes a bargain with her – he’ll study her curse and help her break it if she can break the contract binding him to Howl’s fireplace. When he turns up, Howl accepts Sophie as his new cleaner, and she quickly makes herself at home.
Howl soon finds himself in need of Sophie’s help – not only is he being summoned by kings to fight in a war but also to find and rescue a missing prince, all while being threatened by the Witch of the Waste.
Wynne Jones’ prose makes for an enchanting tale of witches and wizards, taking in not just the land of Ingary but also Howl’s native Wales. Her whimsical writing is endearing, making for a charming read suitable for all, containing enough action, magic, and humour to keep fans thoroughly engaged throughout.
If you’ve not yet paid a visit to Howl’s Moving Castle, then treat yourself and pick up a copy of this wonderful story today.