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I've been hearing good things about Diana Wynnes Jones for decades, but hadn't read any of her books until now. What got me to pick one up was, of course, a movie. I finally watched Miyazaki's adaptation of Howl's Moving Castle last year, and I've watched it twice more since. If I loved the movie so much, it was obviously time to read the book.

Well, the movie is quite a bit different from the book! The basic set-up is the same: a 17-year-old girl named Sophie is placed under a spell by the Witch of the Waste, which turns her into an old crone. She runs away from her family and ends up in the mobile castle of a wizard named Howl, where she also finds an apprentice named Michael and a fire demon named Calcifer. Sophie insinuates herself into the life of the castle and is soon swept up in various threads of magical and romantic intrigue.

This is fundamentally a love story, of that sort that looks like a hate story on the surface. Sophie is always trying to run away from the castle because she's angry at Howl. Howl is constantly bemoaning her nosiness and ingratitude. Howl has the reputation of being a horrible womanizer, and he appears to have his eyes set on Sophie's sister, Lettie. Sophie believes that as the eldest sister of three who lives in a fairy tale, she's doomed to failure in life and love. And so on.

It's a somewhat meandering story, but a lot of things that seem irrelevant at first take on meaning later. Jones has a wonderful sense of humor, and her sense of magic is very strong as well (and is tied explicitly to poetry in this book). The characters have character, and Sophie can be quite annoying even to the reader. The world of the book is full of strange nooks and crannies, and Howl seems to come from contemporary Wales, which is treated as an exotic wonderland in the eyes of the other characters. There is a great sense of wonder and freshness and beauty, but almost everyone is also suffering under a spell that leaves them lost and confused and helplessly dependent on outside intervention.

The differences between book and film are too numerous to recount, although you can start with the fact that Sophie has two sisters in the book and only one in the movie and that the film is a war story where there is no war (although the mild threat of one) in the book. Jones herself, in a interview included at the back of the book, says that Miyazaki's versions of Sophie and Howl are gentler and more noble than hers. They are still recognizably the same characters, however. Sophie still promises to free Calcifer from his contract with Howl if Calcifer will free her from the old age spell. Both book and movie are beautiful stories in their different ways.

Jones wrote two sequels to Howl's Moving Castle. The next one is Castle in the Air, which oddly sounds like Miyazaki's Laputa: Castle in the Sky. I think I'll give it a try. Or maybe not. It doesn't get a lot of love, so maybe I'll move on to Fire and Hemlock instead.

Comments

( 9 comments — Leave a comment )
kalimac
Feb. 4th, 2013 06:48 pm (UTC)
Fire and Hemlock = my favorite DWJ book.
randy_byers
Feb. 4th, 2013 06:52 pm (UTC)
It seems as though that one and Dogsbody have gotten the highest praise in my experience -- or at least in my memory of my experience.
cpt_buggernuts
Feb. 5th, 2013 11:45 am (UTC)
Fire and Hemlock is one of my favourite DWJ books too (albeit perhaps in a 'wouldn't give it to an impressionable teenager' way). Archer's Goon and The Ogre Downstairs would be joint favourites.
randy_byers
Feb. 5th, 2013 03:54 pm (UTC)
Archer's Goon seems to get a lot of love, although perhaps more from British readers than from Americans. Did you read Fire and Hemlock as an impressionable teenager, hm? Does that explain everything, huh, huh?
cpt_buggernuts
Feb. 5th, 2013 08:27 pm (UTC)
Ha! It would have been a drop in the ocean of profoundly damaging books if I had. I didn't actually read it until last year, and it made me feel old because nowadays when I want to enjoy reading a book that uses that particular mythic trope* I have to put my metaphorical fingers in my ears and pretend I can't tell how unhealthy it is.

Archers Goon is probably bigger over here because the BBC Children's department adapted it for TV in (I think) the late eighties. I remember it being good, though given it probably had a budget of about forty pence I can't imagine that it'll have aged well.

Deep Secret is great, and the UK con setting is very well done. My 'orrible ex claimed he had a cameo in it, which - for once - was probably the truth as there's a unnamed character who fits his description and he was friends with DWJ.

*clumsy phrasing in case naming the trope constitutes spoilers.
randy_byers
Feb. 5th, 2013 08:49 pm (UTC)
If you were trying to avoid saying Thomas the Rhymer or Tam Lin, it's too late, because the back of the book mentions them. (To be honest, I don't think I know the Tam Lin story, although I've seen the name bandied about for years.) (And I've spotted that there's a character in the book named Thomas Lynn.)
cpt_buggernuts
Feb. 5th, 2013 10:09 pm (UTC)
Yeah, couldn't remember whether it was open about being a Tam Lin story or whether it was supposed to be a twist.

Edited at 2013-02-05 10:09 pm (UTC)
wrdnrd
Feb. 5th, 2013 03:36 am (UTC)
I like each of the follow-ups to "Howl" less and less. I enjoyed "Castle in the Air" well enough (it's not like Laputa, fyi). I disliked the 3rd one almost completely.

I do love both DWJ's "Howl" and Miyazaki's "Hauru", even tho' after the mid-point they are almost completely unlike each other.

I'd also recommend the Chrestomanci books, tho' "Lives of Chrisopher Chant" (the 2nd) is possibly the best one. Andy read that one to me 1st, then we went back and read the 1st one. All others after those are mediocre (i especially don't care for "Magicians of Caprona", tho' i personally enjoy "Witch Week" and "The Pinhoe Egg" pretty well).

"Fire and Hemlock" is WONDERFUL.

Oh! Oh!! You MUST read "Deep Secret" -- it takes place at an SF con! The follow-up ("Merlin Conspiracy") is also quite good, tho' NOT at an SF con. Actually, i really like the 2nd in that series for how it weaves things together even tho' you wouldn't quite expect it at 1st.

The "Tough Guide to Fantasyland" is also hilarious.

My book group has banned me from suggesting Diana Wynne Jones any more. I CAN'T SEE WHYYYYYY. :(

;)
randy_byers
Feb. 5th, 2013 03:57 pm (UTC)
Last night I read Garth Nix's intro to Fire and Hemlock, and he recommended ALL her books. That's a LOT of books!

Deep Secret sounds interesting. I assume it's a British convention.
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