Fat Books & Thin Women

Book vs. Movie: Howl’s Moving Castle

Book: This was my first Diana Wynne Jones and it was – well, I guess not quite what I was expecting. Sophie, a teenage girl who works for her stepmother in the hat shop her father ran until his death, doesn’t expect to have an interesting life because of her place in the birth order. The oldest child is never the one to go off on adventures, but the one to stay home. She’s turned into an old woman by the Witch of the Waste and leaves her home, finding refuge in the moving castle that’s been looming over her town. There she meets Calcifer, a fire demon, and Howl’s apprentice Michael. Sophie makes a place for herself as a cleaning woman, promising Calcifer that she will find a way to break the agreement he has with Howl that keeps him in the castle; in return, Calcifer will break the Witch’s spell over Sophie.

With Howl Sophie is living a more exciting life, but it’s still a quiet one. Jones has these fantastic elements to the story, like the door to the castle opening to four different places (one Howl’s birthplace, our world), Seven League Boots, fire demons being fallen stars, but these things often seem haphazardly thrown into the story. Some parts of the story aren’t sufficiently developed, so that Sophie and Howl’s declarations of love for each other at the end of the novel come as a surprise; these are characters who throughout the book may develop a certain respect for one another, but don’t show any growing affection until, bam, they do. The fight scenes are lackluster, Jones’s descriptions not adding any urgency or clear choreography to the scenes. Howl’s Moving Castle has countless intriguing and magical elements to it, but they all read as flat.

Movie: The animated film of Howl’s Moving Castle makes countless bizarre departures from the source material, and while the film may be good on its own, it was hard to watch after reading the book. Many of the changes made to characters and storyline are impossible to understand; for what reason does Howl’s apprentice, Michael, go from being 15 years old to a child? Why is the wizard Suleman changed into a woman and made the villian? Why does the Witch of the Waste turn from the villian into a goofy, often harmless old woman? Why does the door that in the book leads to Howl’s home country (in our world) lead here to night skies that Howl flies around in bird form? Why the war?

Visually, the film is stunning. In terms of plotting, nothing’s been gained by the filmmakers’ changes; the story doesn’t become any more coherent as a result of their retooling of characters and plotlines.

Winner: Book.

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I didn’t know Howl’s was a book until Diana Wynne Jones died. I loved the movie and never really thought much about the things you’ve pointed out as inconsistencies just in the film, never mind the things that were changed from the book.

Having seen (and become somewhat attached to) the movie first, is the book still worth reading?

Comment by ohemgillie

i’m not sure. while i was writing this i was wondering what i’d think of the movie if i’d seen it first, and i think all of the things i disliked about it…i wouldn’t dislike them, because they all related to the changes the filmmakers had made from the book. i wasn’t in love with the book (it kind of won by default because i got so frustrated with the changes in the movie), so if you liked the movie – and aren’t dying to read the book – i think you’re alright sticking with that.

Comment by Ellen Rhudy

Sounds like a plan. I reached more or less the same conclusion about The Princess Bride. Loved the movie first, could have lived without knowing the book was so different.

Comment by ohemgillie

Howl and Sophie falling in love in the end surprised me, too. I didn’t see it coming. I did love how all the seemingly unrelated elements–the scarecrow, Sophie’s sisters, etc–all came together in the end. Genius. :)

Comment by Darlyn

[…] Lehane – Darkness, Take My Hand (04/15/11) Francisco Goldman – Say Her Name (04/14/11) Diana Wynne Jones – Howl’s Moving Castle (04/11/11) Olivia Manning – The Great Fortune (04/09/11) Rachel Cohn & David Levithan […]

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