“How about making a bargain with me?” said the demon. “I’ll break your spell if you agree to break this contract I’m under.”– Calcifer
In the land of Ingary, where seven-league boots and cloaks of invisibility really exist, Sophie Hatter attracts the unwelcome attention of the Witch of the Waste, who puts a curse on her. Determined to make the best of things, Sophie travels to the one place where she might get help — the moving castle which hovers on the nearby hills.
But the castle belongs to the dreaded Wizard Howl whose appetite, they say, is satisfied only by the hearts of young girls…
I picked this up after watching the Studio Ghibli adaptation and falling head over heels for it. It was such a beautiful movie with a unique concept. Once I found out that it was based off the first book in a series, I simply had to get my hands on them!
I will try my best not to compare this to the movie too much, although when reading this, the movie was still very much at the forefront of my mind. I expected some changes from the adaptation, but what I found pleasantly surprised me as well as slightly disappointed me. The plot is very much the same. Sophie is cursed to become an old woman by the Witch of the Wastes and meets up with Howl in his moving castle in the hopes that he will be able to help break her curse. The world is beautiful and magical still. Very quirky and different. There are spells and enchantments, magical creatures and cursed people, and a whole cast of characters that keep you hooked from start to finish.
Book Howl is rather different to Ghibli Howl. He’s very much like an oversized child. He’s overly dramatic and throws temper tantrums, and is incredibly selfish and cowardly at times. In the Ghibli movie, he’s very romanticized. He’s soft spoken and charming, and is made out to be a selfless hero. In the book, however, he still has that caring and softer side to him, but it takes a while to comes out. He’s very emotional and lashes out, complaining about his problems to anyone who will hear them and expecting to be the centre of attention all the time. The love-hate relationship he has with Sophie is a lot longer-lived and it takes a while to develop into something softer. You also see him use a lot more magic here. He’s a rather powerful magician and we see him use his abilities more. Eventually, however, the Ghibli version of Howl does make an appearance, and his previous behaviour makes a lot of sense towards the end. His relationship with Michael and Calcifer showed that he was a good person beneath his often ridiculous behaviour.
As with most adaptations, there were plenty more changes, but I was pleasantly surprised by some of the differences. The story is more in depth and explains so much about each of the characters. For example, Sophie’s family has more involvement in this story. We see more of her sisters and what they get up to. How they move on from the hat shop in their own ways but still are a part of Sophie’s adventure with Howl. Michael, Howl’s assistant, is older, a teenager, and has his own story and more personality here than simply being a quirky young assistant. Calcifer was almost the same as he was in the Ghibli version, sarcastic yet surprisingly caring (even if he didn’t like to show it), but he’s more demonic and scary-looking here, and we learn about where he came from. We also discover more about Howl’s involvement with the Witch of the Wastes and why they’re at loggerheads with one another. There are no dramatic war scenes like there are in the film, as the story is very much centralised on Howl vs the Witch of the Wastes and their epic, magic-fuelled battles. There was also a very surprising modern day twist to it, revealing where Howl is originally from that I did not expect at all.
This book was different to what I expected, but it turned out to be in a good way. The world and its inhabitants had their stories expanded upon. It was more magical and fantastical. It wasn’t simply a romance between a girl and an irresistibly charming wizard. It was thrilling and exciting, with magical battles and inventions, curses to break and people to save. Most of the story was the same as the movie, but the differences from the movie made it so much better. I was a little disappointed by the lack of romance between Howl and Sophie until the very end, but through his and her actions, you could see that they did care for one another towards the end. His actions were not as selfish and uncaring as Sophie had at first believed them to be.
The only thing that threw me off at times was the writing style. It was very much tell not show, but eventually I learned to get past it. I will say though, this is probably the first in a long time where I’ve both read the book and watched the adaptation and loved them both equally.
It was such an enjoyable read that I finished it within a week, which is the fastest I’ve read a book in a while. I’m very much looking forward to diving back into this world with the next book, Castle in the Air.