Sunday, October 21, 2012

The old lady and the wizard

Howl's Moving Castle is the first (and so far the only) novel that I've read by Diana Wynne Jones. Because this novel has such a huge following, I had high expectations for it. I read it last year and just reread some parts quickly for the book discussion this weekend. Let's just say that my expectations were not met, well, at least not fully.

First, I found the narrative quite flat. It's a very talky book, with the characters engaging in conversations throughout the book. There weren't that many exciting scenes. For a children's book, I think it could've used more adventure and more thrills. (Is it the British way of writing that is in these pages? Well, J. K. Rowling is British and her Harry Potter novels were hugely entertaining.)

Second, I feel that there was a disproportionate number of things happening throughout the book. The first half of the book moved slowly. Now in the second half of Howl's Moving Castle, there were lots of moving parts already. Identities being switched and revealed, curses lifted, love realized, villains killed, persons set free. The plot elements seem to be all over the place.

But I have to hand it to Diana Wynne Jones for coming up with a very unconventional fairy tale. Yes, for all its high fantasy and wizardry, Howl's Moving Castle is a fairy tale in my opinion. There are beauty and the beast elements, but Jones wonderfully twists this aspect, resulting in the reader frequently guessing which among the characters is the beauty or the beast. She also alludes to the stepmother-stepsister formula. In the novel, the stepmother is anything but evil, and Sophie, the lead character, gets along with her sisters.

Since Sophie was a hatter,
the moderators asked the book club members
to come wearing hats to the discussion.
(Photo courtesy of R.)

I really did want to like this novel, even after the "reread." Maybe the story does get better in the succeeding books. I'm currently reading one of the sequels, House of Many Ways, and I'm finding it better and more charming than the first book. Nevertheless, Howl's Moving Castle can still captivate the reader who's looking for fantasy reads.

Read this book if:

  1. You're a huge fan of the Hayao Miyazake movie. (The book is quite different and is entertaining in itw own way.)
  2. You love your British fantasy writers.
  3. You like your wizards vain. (Howl apparently spent at least 2 hours in the bathroom.)


Monique said...

Out of 5 stars, I gave this only 2. That's how much I, uh, liked it. :)

Peter S. said...

Hi, Monique. I think I'll give it a 2.5 stars. It wasn't bad, but I just didn't like it.

Kaz said...

I've not read this one, but there are a couple of others she wrote that I've read - 'The Cart and the Cwydder' is exquisite, mythical, medieval, magical... She also wrote - I think it's her - 'The Ogre Downstairs' which is just gorgeous and I've been hunting a copy for years. A friend of mine owned it and I borrowed it a few times. And I had one of the Christopher Chant series, which was great fun but have never managed to track the others down.

Peter S. said...

Hi, Kaz! She does have a huge following. Woot woot on the Jones novels that you've read.

During the discussion, we all felt that it was sad that she passed away last year.

Tina said...

This makes me really curious now. :) I've had this on my TBR for a while now, but I just put off reading it because I wasn't in the mood for it yet. Hm, I wonder.

Anonymous said...

Aww, I'm a little sad that you didn't like it. It's one of my favorite books as it's a little quirkier than most fantasy books. Also, I liked the fact that Miss Jones attempted to subvert expectations. :)

Also, I love Calcifer. :D

That said, House of Many Ways is the better book. :) Though, I think Castle in the Air came after Howl's Moving Castle. :)

Peter S. said...

Hi, Tina! You should read it and share your thoughts! I'm curious as to how people feel about this book.

Hello, Jason! Noted the sequence. And I love Calcifer too!

Jace said...

Hey, I wanna know where I can get this book. Been wanting to read it since I found out this was the basis of Miyazaki's animated film :)

Peter S. said...

Hi, Jace! You can get this from Fully Booked!

Hayley said...

Hi, this reminded me of my own review of Howl's moving castle! I love the movie, but I was a bit disappointed with the book. Granted it is for kids, but it did lack the thrilling adventure that appeared in the movie. Please check out my blog if you have the time. thanks.

Peter S. said...

Hi, Hayley! Thanks for dropping by! Sure, I'll check it out now.