In the land of Ingary, where such things as seven league boots and cloaks of invisibility really exist, it is quite a misfortune to be born the eldest of three.
If I have ever held even a brief discussion with you about books, there is an extremely high chance that I have at the very least mentioned my favourite book, Howl’s Moving Castle. If you have also read it, I have probably melted and flailed over it, and hopefully did not scar you with my over-enthusiasm too terribly much.
During my flailing, I have discovered a few things: Outside (and sometimes inside) hardcore reader circles, Howl’s Moving Castle is virtually unheard of. And also: Much more common if people have heard of it, they have heard of the Studio Ghibli animated film adaption.
This has made me a little sad, as this book has very quickly become my favourite book of all time. Three years ago, if you had asked me what my favourite book was, I would have hemmed and hawwed and stressed over an answer for hours, and finally told you I could not choose. While in some ways, that has not changed, for there are many books very precious to my heart that I would say are my favourites, but now I have One Favourite To Rule Them All.
And so today, I am here to tell you why you should read this book. Because it’s my favourite. And it would make me happy. You want to make me happy, right? Yay, good. Go read this book. Stop reading this blog post now if you want, just go read the book, then come back and tell me what you think.
Or if you need further convincing, continue reading and I will be happy to convince you.
Everyone knows you are the one who will fail first, and worst, if the three of you set out to seek your fortunes.
In some ways, I almost think it is better not to know much about the book before going into it. I’ve discovered that recently I like to know as little about the book as possible, because it makes me even more curious, and I don’t have any built up expectations before reading. If that is you too, then stop reading this here and go to the library/bookstore and start reading the book.
I did not know much about the book going into it. I first read it as one of the books we read in a small book club type class on fairy tales (and books reminiscent of fairy tales) I participated in with a group of friends. We read one book or fairy tale a week, and then met via video chat to discuss it. I didn’t even read the summary of the book before starting, because the copy I got from the library did not have a synopsis on the back. I just knew the title was intriguing, the cover was dated but interesting, and I had to read it in a week.
That did not turn out to be a problem. I read it in two days. Had I had no other obligations, I would have finished it in one day (I did with both of the sequels).
What first caught my attention was the opening line. (At the top of this post) Second, the characters.
Sophie (appears to be) a very ordinary girl. And she uses that ordinary-ness as a sort of crutch. Because she is the eldest of three children, she is the one who will fail first and worst if the three sisters set out to seek their fortune. That has become her identity, and she clings to her worthlessness.
I identified with that. Her growth inspired me to grow.
Howl is heartless. Howl is caring. Howl is a coward. Howl is brave.
Howl is a very big, wonderful contradiction in case you have not figured that out.
That’s all I will say on him for now.
Sophie is also a bit of a condratiction. She’s shy. She’s snarky. She’s mousey. She’s fierce. She’s anxious. She’s brave.
Most people are condratictions. People are never one thing only. We are never just a stereotype.
And that is one of the strengths of Howl’s Moving Castle. The characters really shine through like perfectly imperfect people. All of the side characters feel like they have their own agendas and goals and lives, even if we don’t know them very well. They are very realistic and very “real people” like. And very lovable.
Here I will get into slight spoilers. Not more than you would get from reading the synopsis, but if you want to go in with as little of an idea of what the plot will be as possible, stop reading here, and go read the book.
(Yes, I am fully aware I sound like a broken record. With all the unbearable screeching that accompanies one. I shan’t apologize.)
Sophie is just starting to realize she is unsatisfied with the monotony of her life (“Interesting things did seem to happen, but always to somebody else.”) but does not know what to do about it, when a rather strange mix up occurrs. The feared Witch of the Waste comes sailing into Sophie’s family hat shop and puts a curse on her, turning Sophie into an eighty year old woman. Sophie decides to leave, not wanting her family to see her like this. Out on the hills, she discovers the floating castle that belongs to the feared Wizard Howl, and inside it, meets a cranky fire demon, Howl’s flustered apprentice, and finally the distracted Howl himself. She strikes a bargain with Calcifer, the fire demon, that if she can break the secret contract between Calcifer and Howl, Calcifer will break the spell she’s under. Sophie discovers a lot of very unexpected things. One of which just happens to be something very extraordinary about herself.
Howl’s Moving Castle is a story of the heart. It is a story of youth, of self-discovery, of love, and of finding a missing heart.
Those of you who have read the book, tell me what your favourite thing about it is in the comments below! (And if you caught the “hints” I dropped like Calcifer did 😉 )
For those of you who have not read it, what are you waiting for? A beautiful new adventure awaits, if only you have a heart courageous enough to undertake it.