Howl's Moving Castle

Quick housekeeping note – I am back in school, which means posting will be erratic. Columns might be short and they definitely won't be posted on a regular schedule. My weekly papers, exams, videos, etc are due on Sunday so I might be posting on Mondays for a bit, once I'm finished with the weekly school stuff. I'll play it by ear and I apologize for the inconvenience.

This past weekend while the power was out and Irene was raging I wasn't able to do any of the things I was supposed to do, which gave me the chance to do something I wanted to do. Instead of doing my homework, which I do online, or any of a million other chores, I picked up my son's copy of Howl's Moving Castle by Diana Wynne Jones and read it almost straight through, something I haven't had the luxury of doing in a very long time.

I wasn't sure if I was even going to be interested in the book, considering how many times I've seen the film, but the author's smooth style is a delight and soon carried me away into her magical world. Sophie is the oldest of the three girls and she is very aware that the eldest always fails when they set out to seek their fortune. She's so convinced that this is going to happen to her that she stays put in her stepmother's hat shop, being kind of miserable, really only associating with the hats.

Her two sisters have been sent off to seek their fortunes, one at a fancy bakery and one at a witch's house but poor Sophie remains behind. One day she goes to visit her sister at the bakery where she finds out something surprising about her sisters and is told that her stepmother is taking advantage of her incredible hat making talents. Sophie makes exactly nothing for all of her work in the shop and when her stepmother agrees she deserves a wage but refuses to even talk about what it should be and when it should start, Sophie becomes grumpier and more unhappy.

Meanwhile rumors fly about two wicked characters that are rampaging around the kingdom. The Witch of the Waste is a figure of fear to everyone and nobody wants to cross her. A wizard with a castle that roams around the countryside is frightening mothers who warn their daughters that the wizard, Howl by name, eats the hearts of young girls, who are never seen again.

An obnoxious customer comes to the hat shop and Sophie is a little saucy in response. To her horror the client turns out to be the very scary Witch of the Waste, who puts a spell on Sophie, accelerating her age and turning her into a very elderly woman. Half crippled and in shock, Sophie leaves the hat shop, hobbles her way out of the valley and ends up at the back door of Howl's castle, where she hitches a ride and starts a long impersonation.

Here she meets a fire demon, an apprentice and Howl himself, who is perhaps the vainest character to show up in a fairy tale since the stepmother with the magic mirror that told her who was the fairest in the land. Howl spends more of his magic looking pretty and wooing women than he does on anything else and Sophie is both bemused and amused by him. But she's determined to find out the truth. Is he eating the hearts of girls? Or is he just stealing them and hiding them somewhere? While she's trying to get to the bottom of Howl's secrets she also needs to help the fire demon, who has promised to help break her spell, avoid a scary scarecrow that keeps following her, keep her sister from falling in love with Howl and hide out from the Witch of the Waste.

If you've been charmed by the movie you'll be charmed times ten by the book, which is jam-packed with adventure, fun and little mysteries. If you're feeling stressed it's the perfect thing to help you forget your troubles. You can read an excerpt here:

Bonus Treat:
This week's bonus treat is a cute sword and sorcery comic called Gorek the Magnanimous. We've all seen revenge stories and as I said a couple of weeks ago I'm thoroughly sick of them. This one is different and really made me laugh.