howl’s moving castle

August 12, 2011

books for kids

Howl’s Moving Castle by Diana Wynne Jones was one of the books I had to read for a Children’s Literature subject I did at university. It’s a strange, complicated, and interesting tale, and is classified as a young adult fantasy novel. I would allow my 8 and 9 year-old boys to read it.

The story plucks a plain, hardworking girl, Sophie, from mediocrity and places her into a magical world where she has to keep reading the situation and looking into the hearts and motivations of others to decide what to do next. She has been changed into a crone by the Witch of the Waste (get the inference here?) and she wants to find a way to return to her youth. She eventually finds out that it was the idea of the spell rather than the actual spell which locks her into her current form.

Of course, there is a young man – Howl. He too seems unhappy. He is an immensely talented wizard but does not want to follow the path that everyone else has set for him. Sophie and Howl antagonise each other. He pushes her to become more independent. She challenges him to care more. The girls reading this book may fall in love with Howl, the boys reading this book may wish they were Howl.

Howl has a moving castle and tends to pick up stray people and critters as he travels across the countryside. Each of the characters has something they have to learn about themselves. This story has many characters and I got confused at times with all the coming and going. However I did read this book over four years ago. Another reading may help to clarify. Actually, I think it would be more enjoyable second time around.

This book has a lot of intertextual allusions – references to other literature. My lecturer said that he had the opportunity to ask Ms Wynne Jones about the intertextual allusions, and he said she looked at him blankly. Just goes to show that you don’t need to know the technicalities of writing to write a good story.

It was through this book that I discovered the work of Hayao Miyazaki, and what a pleasure that has been. Miyazaki created an anime version of Howl’s Moving Castle. The film is different to the book. That’s OK as the story is big enough for both versions and equally enjoyable in both forms.

Miyazaki’s films are exquisite. Every scene is hand coloured with watercolours.

From Wikipedia: Miyazaki’s films often incorporate recurrent themes like humanity’s relationship to nature and technology, and the difficulty of maintaining a pacifist ethic. Reflecting Miyazaki’s feminism, the protagonists of his films are often strong, independent girls or young women. Miyazaki is a vocal critic of capitalism and globalization.

We quite often have Miyazaki film festivals at home, especially in the summer when laying on the floor in a darkened room is the best escape from the heat.


About hakea

groupworker, parent educator, therapist, mother of three boys.

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6 Comments on “howl’s moving castle”

  1. InsideJourneys Says:

    Sounds like an interesting story. Do you think kids will have problems keeping up with the different characters?


    • hakea Says:

      Hi Marcia

      Kids would probably have no trouble – my 8 year old is onto book 5 of Skulduggery Pleasant. He has no trouble keeping track of all the characters, but it is slightly easier to read than Howl’s Moving Castle. The characters in Howl are quirky and have unusual motivations.

      I had to read the book very quickly because I had to read another 10 books for the subject I was studying. My husband said that studying children’s literature would be fun when I was trying to decide what subjects to study – it wasn’t fun but it did make me aware of a lot of books that I would not have stumbled upon otherwise.

      After I wrote this post, I found a young lass on Youtube talking about the book and movie. She said she can read the book in two hours. Young ones are so clever and adaptable.


  2. Doug Says:

    I love all things Miyazaki, but it took a long time for me to understand this story. It was worth the effort. Could young adults follow it? Perhaps, but what matters is that they would feel inspired to try. Complex stories are very good for us!


    • hakea Says:

      Hi Doug

      Thanks for dropping in and making a comment. Lovely to see you.

      Miyazaki is amazing. I love the balance in all of his films. Spirited Away is probably my favourite.

      You raise a really good point. I agree that complex stories are good for us. The curiosity they arouse, and the need to understand at a deeper level. You could read the book five times and gain more understanding and a fresher perspective each time.

      I haven’t visited your blog in a while. I’ll mosey on over now.


  3. eof737 Says:

    Miyazaki’s body of work is a favorite in our household…. I nodded my head when I read your comment about the technicalities of writing… and writers. Many a day I have sat in an audience where literature/language students ask complex, sometimes pretentious questions of an author and they get a blank look… Then the author says something like, “The character meant what he said and nothing more… just like I wrote it.” I always chuckle. Great post. 🙂


    • hakea Says:

      Hi Eliz

      I didn’t understand anything one of the lecturers said in this subject. I received the lectures on disc because I was studying externally. I transcribed the lectures to see if I could make sense of it in written form, but I couldn’t.

      Thank goodness I had a lecturer I understood for the on-campus sessions. It’s only now, four years after I finished the subject, and I’m doing a lot more reading of fiction, that I’m starting to get the gist of what they were talking about.

      You’ve got something there – lecturers on literature tend not to be authors of fiction.


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