Escape Velocity

A curated Collection of Fantasy and Science Fiction Media

On a normal day selling hats in the shop, hatmaker Sophie has the bad luck to be cursed by a witch to look and feel like an old crone. Previously having resigned herself to her dull fate, she now promptly leaves the shop and knocks on the door of the wizard and notorious womanizer Howl to get her curse lifted. She comes to an agreement with the fire demon living in Howl’s hearth instead.

Listened to the audiobook with Kristin Atherton – good narrator, no specific comment.

As a rule, I really like to read the book before watching the adaptation, but in the case of Howl’s Moving Castle, I’m not even sure I knew the Ghibli movie was an adaptation and not an original work.

If you read my review of the Howl’s Moving Castle Studio Ghibli adaptation, you will find that my main gripe was that I couldn’t make any sense of the story, in particular the latter half. So I picked up the book a little while ago to see if I could remedy that. To be honest, I’m still not sure what the hell they were thinking in that adaptation. But that’s a rant for another time.

What I did find, however, was very charming fantasy book that has many of the same elements as the movie, except they’re arranged in an order and mutual relationship that results in a plot that makes sense from start to finish.

In fact, I really like Jones’ reversal of the standard ‘portal fantasy’-trope, where the story is not told from the perspective of the visitor, but rather from the perspective of the inhabitants of the world that is visited. I’m struggling to remember other examples of similar subversion – I’m sure there must some in The Chronicles of Narnia and if I remember correctly in The Neverending Story, both of which are interestingly children’s stories. In some ways, I guess Iain Pears’ Arcadia also qualifies.

Aside from this interesting quirk, Howl’s Moving Castle is a well-written, funny, and charming children’s book in a whimsical fairy-tale world that I would say is also worth picking up for adults. Especially with the Ghibli-imagery floating around in my head, I loved the world and the characters and really enjoyed the cozy atmosphere.

If only the adaptation had stuck to this version of the plot…

Like Peter, I also listened to the audiobook. Unlike Peter, I have a comment about this: I think it really added to my enjoyment of the book to actually hear Howl’s Welsh accent. Atherton also does a delightful little voice for Calcifer, which made me love the character even more than I might have had I read the physical book.

Like everyone, I had also seen the Ghibli movie well before I even a) realised it was based on a book and b) got around to reading said book. Because of this, I was slightly concerned that I wouldn’t enjoy the ways the book deviates from the movie. However, my worries proved completely unfounded.

Howl’s Moving Castle doesn’t play out exactly like the Ghibli film, but overall, it has the same vibe, and broadly, the story is the same. The movie clearly had to simplify the plot of the book, which is why it’s really nice to read how things actually play out. While wonderful, the movie absolutely gets confusing at times. The book has a much more understandable plot, which, while still slightly convoluted, never gets quite as confusing as the Ghibli movie.

On top of this, the movie adds an extra layer of complexity with the war that takes place in Sophie’s world. This is altogether absent in the book, and I don’t know if I agree with the choice to add it to the Ghibli film. The story works much better without another layer of politics and drama.

I really enjoyed the characterisation of Sophie, who refuses to take shit from anyone the moment she gets turned into an old lady. Howl, who is already vain and dramatic in the movie, turns out to have been even MORE vain and dramatic in the source material. On top of this, the man has a Welsh accent. A Welsh Accent! This is where I really think the audiobook enhanced the reading experience for me. I know what a Welsh accent sounds like, but I wouldn’t have been able to constantly imagine it while reading.

I’ve not been super impressed with the fantasy media I’ve been consuming lately (*cough* Fourth Wing *cough*). I‘ve been itching for some good fantasy stories that don’t feel like cheap imitations of other stories, or seem to be written only because certain “tropes” are popular on TikTok. Howl’s Moving Castle definitely scratched that itch, and I’m excited to read more of Jones’s work.

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