“Howl’s Moving Castle” by Diana Wynne Jones

Sophie Hatter is a sensible girl, reasonably kind and not necessarily unattractive. The problem is that she had the poor fortune to be born the eldest of three daughters. All that awaits her beyond the doors of her family shop is failure and an awful lot of noise. She’s content to grow old this way, trimming hats by candlelight—until the Witch of the Waste decides to speed the process.

To break the curse, Sophie seeks the aid of Wizard Howl, a powerful man rumored to devour the hearts of lovely young girls. He turns out to be a powerful man indeed, if not necessarily the cold, monstrous creature of rumor.

All right—by now, a lot of people are probably quite familiar with the title—it was made into a beautiful film by Hayao Miyazaki and the talented staff over at Studio Ghibli. It also happens to be one of my absolute favorite pieces of animation, but enough of that.

I first found out about the novel because of the brief ‘based on’ byline citing the original work, and for years I wondered about it. Was the book any good? Did it explain the—admittedly numerous—things that the movie threw at viewers with absolutely no explanation?

The answer is a resounding yes.

Howl's Moving Castle by D TAILOR

Spoiler : It’s smaller on the inside.  (Photo credit: DrJohnBullas)

If you’re a fan of the Studio Ghibli adaptation, you need to read this book. The characters are just as (if not even more) lovable and far more well-rounded, the action is more detailed and fulfilling—in fact, the plot line of the book veers off very pointedly from the plot of the movie, resolving into a far richer experience and a deeper understanding of the universe’s development as a whole.

If you’re not a fan of the Studio Ghibli adaptation, guess what? You still need to read the book. I went in expecting a slightly more detailed account of what was going on with all of the falling stars and paper doll people that popped in and out of nowhere for absolutely no reason, and I was not disappointed. The book took my expectations for a brief foray into a flower shop and gave me a cotton candy fairy world of explanations and a whole mess of new plot and wonderfulness that even now makes me want to pop but I can’t because I have to write this review IT IS THAT AMAZING.

            To begin, Sophie is a brilliant heroine. Though initially resigned to her lot in life, she is not in any way a weak character. Once challenged by the witch, she exhibits her first spark of self-confidence, which propels her through the rest of the novel. Transformed into an old woman and no longer sensitive about, well, anything but her aching bones, she becomes a force of nature.

During her stay at the castle, her relationship with each resident allows her to build that confidence and use her innate charisma and kindness to bolster their interactions. She is clever and takes absolutely no nonsense, quickly forcing her way into a ragtag family that is instantly better for her inclusion. Sophie’s relationship with Howl, also, expands and gains new life. There is inter-dimensional travel, jealousy, and housecleaning most foul in a sort of domestic circus that leaves you with a smile on your face and laughter ringing in your ears.

I was enamored with the development between them in the book–of watching Sophie observe and understand Howl and, as a result, him beginning to understand himself. I won’t spoil it for you–but the final result of all of their back and forth in the book culminates in a much more understandable relationship for all parties involved. And no schizophrenic hair morphing just for giggles.

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If teenage girls could dye their hair as much as the characters in this adaptation…

The castle’s residents, too, receive far more development in the book, rather than their prescribed ‘sidekick’ roles from the film.

I fell in love with the characters, thanks to this book.

The Witch of the Waste receives far more depth and intrigue, taking a much deeper and darker turn than the one displayed in the film—as well as a decidedly better motivation. It was as if everything suddenly became much better rounded!

On that note, I wanted to point out that the supporting characters—Lettie, Fanny, Sophie’s stepmother whose name escapes me but whom I would readily look up if I knew where exactly my copy was—they are all such wonderful, well-used characters. I wouldn’t want to spoil it, but it becomes very obvious to the reader that Hatter women—no matter their age or order of birth—are simply not a lot to be messed with.

This book, beyond being an amazing and engaging fairytale perfect for any age, comes equipped with the best rolemodels ever, more sass and magic than you can shake a walking stick at, and a fire demon! What’s not to love?!

You may well disagree, but for me, curling up on the bed with my copy was an experience that reminded me of when I first became really involved with reading. I loved every word, every new twist and turn, and every twitch of Sophie’s bony fingers.

This is one book that needs to be read by every person who has ever carried a fairytale in their heart, by each and every one who’s ever wondered what it means to learn, with a little bit of magic, what it means to be unapologetically true to oneself.

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And yes, this still happens.

Final Rating : 5, a very nicely trimmed 5.

If thou be’st born to strange sights,
Things invisible to see,
Ride ten thousand days and nights,
Till age snow white hairs on thee,
Thou, when thou return’st, wilt tell me,
All strange wonders that befell thee,
And swear,
No where,
Lives a woman true, and fair.

–          John Donne

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And Now For Something Completely Different

All the Literatease have been wonderfully pleased with your views and responses. After this first week of reviews we’ve come to some conclusions:

1) Rating a read in cups of tea is just too twee for words. So we’re going to stop doing that.

2) Having a week-long theme of reads is strictly unnecessary. We were working on “revenge” the first time around, but there was nothing really connecting those posts. So we’re going to review books and other media as we stumble on them. Movies are up next week, then back to novels and so on, so there will be some semblance of order–just less jack-booted.

So thank you for your patience as we rumble along!

Until next time,

Eleanor

“A Bad Day for Sorry” by Sophie Littlefield

Miss Stella Hardesty is not a dominatrix, but she is in the business of making men feel awfully sorry. When she isn’t battling menopause, Miss Hardesty tends to find herself occupied with championing the abused women of rural Missouri—a class from which she only recently graduated with a well-placed wrench to Ollie Hardesty’s head.

Now, she does little jobs here and there, ensuring that women like her have, if not a supportive shoulder to cry on, then a few hot cigarette butts to burn the mean out of their men.

But Stella herself isn’t such a sweet lady. I entered the book expecting a much more compassionate character than the one I ended up reading about. Miss Littlefield spends perhaps a bit too much time attempting to prove exactly how capable Stella “the Hardass” Hardesty really is.

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The end result is a character that is, to me, entirely inaccessible. All of her self-hatred and doubt is reflected rather unfortunately on the characters around her—even Chrissy, a sweet if slow-witted girl whose child she is attempting to recover!

While the descriptions that Miss Littlefield provides are rich and honest in a very refreshing and involving way, they are also often completely off topic or inessential to the point at hand. (I really don’t think I needed to know quite so much about the sheriff’s sexy eyebrows. Or the brief history of everyone Stella has ever known to chew tobacco.)

At times, it comes off as a bit of humor that’s been too enthusiastically attempted. At other times, the digressions are downright frustrating. The search for Tucker is instated early on, but Miss Littlefield spends much more time describing Stella’s ever-raging battle with her own dismal self-confidence than she does engaging in the description of anything of merit.

On more than one occasion, there is lengthy discussion of her chosen beauty products, her tasteful shoes, the dangly little earrings she pairs with a ‘night out’ outfit, or that little spritz of White Diamonds she dashes on just before going out. But concerningly little mention of the kidnapped baby.

I caught myself stopping every now and then to ask, But what about the BABY, Stella? Which is not a good sign. I cared more about a baby that was described in less than two sentences than I did about a main character apparently uninterested in actually improving her surroundings rather than just taking her pound of flesh from every abusive idiot in her rural county.

In the end, A Bad Day for Sorry is a book that I really wanted to enjoy, but even the action billed in the prologue was a false start. What seemed like a book prepped for action and intrigue unusual for a small town turned into something just as slow-moving and lazy as the typical rural stereotype.

The action was inactive, the protagonist was mean, and I found myself unable to make it all the way through the book. I appreciated the buttmonkey more than the heroine, and I’m guessing that’s just not the intended message of the book. Oops.

Final Rating : 2.5 cups of tea. Bitter tea. And you’d better pour some Johnny Walker Black in it, because I really don’t think Stella would have anything else. Ever. She talks more about the booze than the baby. 

I really wanted to enjoy this book. Some of the narration stands out, and I felt for Chrissy because, well, who else was going to? If you don’t mind waiting ages for the action to finally make its way to the page, you might want to give it a try anyway.