Finals just ended, and as a reward for a full week's worth of focused studying I picked up Howl's Moving Castle by Diana Wynne Jones from the college library for a fun bit of reading. I read it years ago in high school after watching (and loving) the Hiyao Miyazaki film adaptation and wasn't terribly thrilled by the novel, but I was feeling optimistic after my final exams and decided to give the book a second chance.
I'm so glad I did!
I don't think I was reading diligently at all the first time around if I didn't like it then, beacuse I found it to be an absolute delight as I tore through it over the last couple of days. I love the whimsy of the concept and the wit of the characters. I often criticize Jones for employing a rather turbid writing style, but I found Howl's Moving Castle to have a clarity that that other books of hers seem to lack. You have to read the book with some care to really glean the motivations and emotions of the characters (they're all quite British even if the story takes place in an imaginary country, so of course they never quite say what they mean), but it's completely worth it.
Now, the plot!
The main character is a young lady named Sophie Hatter who has decided that she is destined for failure due to the fact that she is the eldest of three (think about it--what fairy tale have you ever heard of in which the eldest child is successful? It's always the youngest, of course). While her two sisters go off to seek their fortunes, she remains behind in her hometown, tending to the hat shop that her recently deceased father owned before he died. Sophie is all set to live a quiet, mouse-like existence until she finds herself in the line of fire of the evil Witch of the Waste, who curses her and turns her into an old lady. In order to break the spell, Sophie sets off to the roving castle of Wizard Howl to seek his help, and finds herself entangled in the affairs of his strange, enchanted household.
The film adaptation by the same name is actually one of my favorite movies ever, but I prefer the book, since the story is more complete and the characters are a good deal more compelling. Sophie and Howl in the book are a lot more fun than they are in the movie (they're just to darn nice in Miyazaki's version). They both have a lot more personality and engage in a lot of that witty, snarky banter that I just love. Still, the animation in the film is absolutely gorgeous, and the voice acting in both English and Japanese is brilliant (it doesn't hurt that Christian Bale plays Howl in the English dub. What a hottie!). In the end I've come to see the film and the novel as separate creative entities.
And they're both fabulous.