Friday, October 07, 2005

Howl's Moving Castle by Diana Wynne Jones

Did you discover Diana Wynne Jone's classic Howl's Moving Castle because of the movie release this past summer? Like so many other adaptations, the movie and the book often don't compare, but unlike other adaptations, this movie did a wonderful job representing the spirit and magic of the book. However, as they say, the book is much better.

Jones does an excellent job painting a new world that exists outside our own. The imagery is beautiful. The world is quaint, and i's serenity is in contrast to the war that is brewing around its edges. The mystery behind Howl's power unfolds intriguingly as the story progresses thanks in part to Sophie, the hatmaker's daughter, who is trapped in an old woman's body. I especially enjoyed the character development. Sophie grew believably as a young woman entering adulthood, old body notwithstanding. Overall the story was warm and amusing. I wouldn't mind reading it again.

I do wish the romance in the book had been less sublime. Too much was left for the final pages of the story leaving the romance feeling rather flat and tacked on. In addition, the final conflict with the Witch of the Waste and her fire demon suffered from the same malady that afflicts much high fantasy - the metaphysical events don't translate well into physical words. I usually see this as a flaw of the author since it is the author's responsibility to translate onto paper what the author conceives in her mind. Perhaps it is just me, but I like to understand what is going on while I read instead of having it explained to me later.

Since I saw the movie first, I am bound to draw comparisons. I must admit that the movie depicted the magic much better than the book, and not simply because the movie was animated. Studio Ghibli seemed to take the most magical moments from the book and re-sewed them together like a patchwork quilt. Much was changed, including characters and story events, but Miyazaki and team once again proved they are masters of wonder. The introduction to Howl in the movie was thrilling and delightful in a way that endeared me to the character far quicker than the book was able to. However, if the movie excelled in depicting the wonder of magic, it paled in depicting character development. Miyazaki's characters are wonderfully developed and entertaining, but frozen in time. They don't really change from the beginning of the movie to the end. Jones, however, wrote growth into each character, even Sophie's mum. In fact, I prefer the ending of the book because the characters believably reached the conclusions of their stories. The movie felt a bit rushed - not helped by the fact that many characters were mixed and matched almost as badly as the Witch of the Waste rearranged her victims.

Overall, Howl's Moving Castle is a wonderful book with a warm narrative that will entertain and hold the interest of any lover of fantasy. I highly recommend it.