Sophie lived in the town of Market Chipping, which was in Ingary, a land in which anything could happen, and often did - especially when the Witch of the Waste got her dander up. Which was often.
As her younger sisters set out to seek their fortunes, Sophie stayed in her father's hat shop. Which proved most unadventurous, until the Witch of the Waste came in to buy a bonnet, but was not pleased. Which is why she turned Sophie into an old lady. Which was spiteful witchery.
Now Sophie must seek her own fortune. Which means striking a bargain with the lecherous Wizard Howl. Which means entering his ever-moving castle, taming a blue fire-demon, and meeting the Witch of the Waste head-on. Which was more than Sophie bargained for...
Review: Two of my favorite all-time novels from my teen and pre-teen years were written by Diana Wynne Jones, Howl's Moving Castle and Fire and Hemlock. I feel compelled to re-read them every few years and was shocked when I realized that not only have I never reviewed them, but I've never reviewed any of the late Ms. Jones' books. These two books held the first protagonists I ever connected with on a personal level; I never knew books could do that. Diana Wynne Jones changed me from an avid reader into a voracious reader.
I suppose it might seem odd that I connected with a young girl who is turned into an old woman, but I was born an old soul and I understood her fear of failure and her resignation towards being too responsible to ever have an adventure. I love the way Sophie discovers that things aren't always as they appear, that your fortune is what you make of it, and adventure happens when you least expect it. I adore that she wrote a magical land that views our reality as strange and magical in itself.
Though her prose were never overly complicated, her depth of meaning never ceases to amaze me. With each reading I catch a new reference I didn't notice before or another layer of subtext. It's amazing how your perspective shifts as a book ages with you. What was a book about magic and coming of age has become a study in perspective, relationships, and ultimately love. In a way it reminds me of the cleverness of Jim Henson in that there is that level of maturity that the reader can absorb or if not, still enjoy the story at face value.
I have seen Hayao Miyazaki's film of Howl's Moving Castle, and while I appreciate the interpretation, I feel like the relationships were over simplified and that the story lost its edge. There is something foreboding about a castle that hovers around which is lost when you make the artistic decision to give the castle legs. It's also why I prefer the original cover art... There is a delicious darkness about it.
So perhaps I ascribe more to this than I ought to because it carries such fond memories, but to this day, it's one of my favorite reads.
Final Take: 5/5