Howl’s Moving Castle

“Nobody can buy a hat without gossiping.”

Diana Wynne Jones

I read this in about a day as material for an essay on fairy tales. It’s Diana Wynne Jones’ most famous novel, about a young girl, Sophie, eldest of three, who is turned by an evil witch into an old woman. She goes to the castle of Howl, a notorious wizard, to seek her fortune, and instead gets drawn into a bargain with Howl’s captive fire-demon: if she releases him from servitude, he will undo the witch’s curse.

I don’t have very much to say about Howl’s Moving Castle, partly, perhaps, because it’s already half past midnight and I’m quite tired, but also because, well, it felt rather light and fluffy. Sure, I like the way it overturns fairytale stereotypes like the necessity for youth and beauty in a heroine, or the trope that the youngest sister gets all the fame. I like the ending, which is perhaps a little sudden, but charming and sweet without being stupid. I like Sophie’s agency and Calcifer’s snark and Howl’s…Howl-ness. It’s a nice tale, with plenty of originality and thought.

But then, the last Jones novel I read was Power of Three, which is commonly regarded as a weak book but which really impressed me with its narrative choices. In comparison to that, Howl’s Moving Castle strikes me as just another subversive fairytale; nothing to be offended by, but nothing to get excited about either. It’s a good way of whiling away an afternoon, at least, pleasantly whimsical and satisfyingly magical, but nothing, really, more than that.

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