Howl's Moving Castle
by Diana Wynne Jones
"By now it was clear that Howl was in a mood to produce green slime any second. Sophie hurriedly put her sewing away. "I'll make some hot buttered toast," she said.
"Is that all you can do in the face of tragedy??" Howl asked. "Make toast!"
Sophie is the eldest of three sisters, and everyone knows it is the youngest that gets the adventure and the prince. Just when Sophie resigns herself to a life of mousy mediocrity, a run-in with the Witch of the Waste turns her into an old woman. Freed from the conventions of youth, Sophie sets off on her own, and bullies her way into the moving castle of the wizard Howl, in hopes of a cure.
This book was delightful, funny, and heartwarming. I confess I did have a difficult time separating it from the movie. I saw Sophie and Calcifer as the movie portrayed them, which was fine, but I wish I had been able to see my Howl with fresh eyes.
I enjoyed Sophie's transformation from timid youth to temperamental old woman. She was freed by the realization that as an old woman, she could do and say what she liked, and this attitude launched her into her adventure. She could have lead quite an unremarkable life if she had remained as she was.
I loved how Diana Wynne Jones portrayed the small, weird family that gathers in the moving castle. At first, Howl is quite alone with Calcifer (the snarky fire demon who moves the castle, and cooks the bacon) and ignores Michael (his student). With Sophie's appearance, they create an odd domestic circle, settling into rhythms and coming to rely on each other as more and more strange beings enter their family: a man-dog, a turnip-headed scarecrow, etc
In Howl, she creates a fantastically charismatic, and deeply flawed man: a vain, powerful, cowardly baby who can be kind and vulnerable one minute, and flooding the house with sulky green slime the next. He works subtly on the reader, as he does on Sophie, and soon, even though he is a bastard, you feel deeply for him. Still, Sophie does not take any of his shit, and it makes my heart hum to hear him being ridiculous and have her take him down a peg or two.
She spins Sophie's relationship with Calcifer and Howl so subtly and so well, that the ending comes as a satisfying surprise. You were not expecting it, but when you looked back, you knew that all was as it should be.