Catherine and I recently finished Howl’s Moving Castle by Diana Wynne Jones for our mother-daughter book club. We had not read a fantasy tale for a few years, and it was fun to set off into another world for a change. We had a great discussion when we got together with everyone from our group. Some of had seen the movie before, but reading the book gave us a whole new idea of what Howl’s world was like. Here’s an official review:
Sophie is sure that her life is meant to come to nothing, because where she lives the eldest child is always ill-fated. So when times get tough for her family she is content to stay home and work in the family hat shop while her two younger sisters go off to bright futures working in a bakery and learning magic. But when the Witch of the Waste comes into her shop one day and casts a spell on Sophie, making her appear old, she decides to set off into the wider world where she knows no one.
When her old bones become tired at the end of her first day of wandering, she finds herself at the edge of the wizard Howl’s castle. The castle is enchanted; it moves and blows puffs of smoke constantly. Although Sophie is afraid of Howl because she heard he eats young girls’ souls, in the guise of an old woman she thinks she will be safe. With thoughts of finding a warm fireside and a comfy chair, Sophie goes into the castle.
She finds Howl’s assistant Michael, and his fire demon, Calcifer, but Howl is not in. As Sophie makes herself useful and becomes a part of the castle life, she begins to learn more and more about Howl, Calcifer and Michael. Gradually, as she gets to know them, they become like a second family to her. But can she keep Howl from being taken by the Witch of the Waste? And can she break a magical spell that binds Calcifer to Howl, so the spell on her can be broken as well?
Howl’s Moving Castle brings up issues of creating family for yourself and seeing people for who they truly are, despite the masks they put up to keep others at a distance. It’s about finding love and acceptance, and not being afraid to look for the magic in small moments. The castle itself is fascinating, with its door leading to different villages depending on which colored-button is facing down, its ability to move its location and its permanent window looking onto a sunny port town. Our mother-daughter book club members thought the ending felt a bit rushed, but otherwise we all enjoyed reading it and talking about Sophie, Howl and all the characters. I recommend it for book clubs with daughters aged 13 and up.