Howl's Moving Castle Introduction
In A Nutshell
So if you're looking for magic schools like Hogwarts, there's Witch Week, Jones's 1982 novel about a girl's boarding school where most of the characters have magic powers. And if you're looking for complicated power plays against an imaginative backdrop, try her 1980 novel The Magicians of Caprona.Okay, this one doesn't share George R.R. Martin's huge vision and epic style since it's a children's novel—but it's got magic and warring families, at least.
As for star-crossed romance between supernatural figures and high school girls in the manner of Twilight (kind of), there's Fire and Hemlock—a 1984 supernatural romance novel about a woman named Polly who suddenly recovers memories of her faerie-possessed, cello-playing love Tom Lynn as she's preparing to leave for college. It's a bit creepy—just like it sounds—but it's extremely gripping.
What we're getting at here is that Diana Wynne Jones was a giant of British fantasy writing from the 1970s until her death in 2011. But perhaps Jones's best-known book is Howl's Moving Castle, which was published in 1986 with an honor from the Boston Globe-Horn Book Awards.
The book's mix of humor, sharp character observation, and creative fantasy settings is so charming and so enduring that the Children's Literature Association gave Howl's Moving Castle a Phoenix Award in 2006 to recognize its value twenty years after its publication. When people give you a special prize for something you wrote two decades beforehand, you know that you have really made a lasting contribution.
Book Versus Movie
Of course, the fact that Howl's Moving Castle may be Jones's most famous novel is not entirely based on the book's early sales. After all, Jones's work has also been transformed into a film by pretty much the greatest animated film director alive today, Miyazaki Hayao.
The film version picks up on the ideas of the novel while adding its own Miyazaki touches—like the flying machines. Oddly, in an interview printed by the publisher HarperCollins, Jones mentions that the most surprising thing to her about Miyazaki's Moving Castle is that she "had not thought of the castle having feet. In the book I wrote, the castle is more like a hovercraft and floats an inch or so above the ground." Consider yourself warned: if feet on the castle are a deal-breaker for you, you may have trouble with Miyazaki's version. Either way though, this is one of those magical instances in which the movie is definitely worth checking out, too.
Why Should I Care?
Are any of you lovely people out there shy, by any chance? When you're in a big group, do you often find yourself hanging out at the edge? Do you hate speaking up in class? Did you watch or read The Perks of Being a Wallflower and really identify with Charlie in the first half of the story? If so, then Sophie Hatter could be the hero for you.
After all, a lot of fantasy heroines (and heroes, for that matter) fit the spunky, outgoing model. They may not always be right, and they may make mistakes, but underneath it all they know what they want and they go after it with everything they have. We love these characters—for their spunk, quick wit, confidence, and more—but we don't always see ourselves in them.
By contrast, Howl's Moving Castle focuses on Sophie Hatter, a woman who isn't all that sure of herself, who often feels anxious in large groups, and who spends much of the novel learning what most of us see right away: that she is an amazing character with a ton of courage and talent.
Oh don't get us wrong: Howl's Moving Castle still has all of the magical explosions, grand romance, and fights to the death that make fantasy as a genre so much fun to read. But it's also a real change of pace to find a book about witches, wizards, and curses that also includes a thoughtful representation of a girl learning to express her (surprisingly blunt, deeply hilarious) personality in spite of her worries that she will seem stupid.
Any teenager, no matter how confident, knows what it is like to feel awkward or out of place at times. For that part of you, you owe it to yourself to read about Sophie Hatter's magical adventures into adulthood—trust us, you'll be glad you did.