Wizards who eat girls’ hearts and souls…stalker scarecrows with rotting turnips for heads…alternate dimensions filled with magic and mystery…these are a few of my favorite things (great…now that song is stuck in my head).
If you’ve seen Hayao Miyazaki’s film, Howl’s Moving Castle, you know what a great story Sophie’s life is (and what an amazing filmmaker Miyazaki is). But, as you also know, only three things in life are guaranteed: death, taxes, and the book is *always* better.
Howl’s Moving Castle was written by Diana Wynne Jones as the first of a trilogy. It begins with Sophie, the eldest of three daughters. Being the eldest of three, of course, means that she is destined for mediocrity. No one is more aware of this truth than Sophie, and she has accepted her fate. She knows she will work in her parent’s hat shop for the rest of her life.
After Sophie’s father dies, her stepmother tries to find apprenticeships for her youngest daughters because she can’t afford to house them anymore. Lettie is off to apprentice at the bakery, and Martha, the youngest and therefore destined to be the most successful, is off to become a witch’s apprentice.
So Sophie works long hours in the hat shop, afraid to even visit her sisters because Howl, the eater of souls, and the Witch of the Waste, who threatened the King himself, are said to be on the hunt. Even living this boring life, she manages to upset the Witch of the Waste, who curses her with old age.
Sophie handles this pretty well. In fact, it’s a little freeing. She decides to travel to visit her youngest sister to see what she can do about the curse. Before she makes it there, she finds her way into Howl’s castle, a monstrosity on legs that is powered by a fire demon named Calcifer. Calcifer promises to break the curse on Sophie if she will help break his contract with Howl, who turns out to be less scary than selfish and arrogant.
This book is hilarious and so much more complex than the film, especially Sophie’s character. It’s filled with adventure, magic, mistaken identity, romance, and so much more! And once it’s done, you can read the next two installments: Castle in the Air and House of Many Ways.