Howl’s Moving Castle.
By Diana Wynne-Jones.
Age range: 7-11
Rating: 4.5 /5
“How about making a bargain with me?” said the demon. “I’ll break your spell if you agree to break this contract I’m under.”
In the land of Ingary, where seven-league books and cloaks of invisibility really exist. Sophie Hatter attracts the unwelcome attention of the Witch of the Waste, who puts a curse on her. Determined to make the best of things, Sophie travels to the one place where she might get help – the moving castle which hovers on the nearby hills.
But the castle belongs to the dreaded Wizard Howl whose appetite, they say, is satisfied only by the hearts of young girls…”
A short synopsis:
Whilst working in her family’s hat shop Sophie comes face to face with the Witch of the Waste. The witch curses Sophie, aging her rapidly so that she is an old woman, as she wrongly believes that Sophie has gotten in the way of something that she wants. Embarrassed Sophie leaves her home and heads to the one person who she believes capable of helping her; Wizard Howl. Howl has a reputation for consuming the hearts of young girls, Sophie is glad that she is now old.
Once she reaches Howl’s castle, Sophie is surprised to find herself settling in and building a life for herself. The wizard is often away and when he is home he is preoccupied and barely notices that Sophie has not left. Sophie finds friends in Michael, Howl’s apprentice and Calcifer the fire demon who is bound to Howl through a secret contract. Sophie agrees to help Calcifer break free from his contract and he agrees to break the spell which she is under in return. The four strange souls have various adventures and face many challenges together as they try to defeat the Witch of the Waste and make Sophie young again.
When I first picked up this book I did so because the cover caught my eye; it was a mixture of bright purple and green with a funky black font proclaiming the title and the author. Also, the author is one of my ‘Recommended Reads’ for my PGCE. I did not really expect much from it, I thought it would just be a normal children’s book; easy to read but not wholly gripping. How wrong was I? Wynne-Jones has a remarkable talent for creating magical worlds and characters which come to life before you. Her use of description is second to none and the story line maintained a strong hold of my attention and imagination from start to finish.
I thought that the format of the chapters was very original ‘Chapter One – In which Sophie talks to some hats’ it helped to keep me wanting more, I would read the chapter name and think I have to see how this goes or I wonder what that means, I have to find out. The illustrations at the beginning of each new chapter corresponded perfectly and made it that bit easier to really visualise the characters and the setting. I liked how there was more than one setting, that Howl’s castle opened onto many different towns or villages dependent upon which way the doorknob was turned. The contrast between Market Chipping and Wales for example was a real joy. Reading Sophie’s observations of the ‘cart-less horse’ as she rode in a car for the first time in Wales was hilarious.
This book had me laughing out loud on more than one occasion. I felt myself becoming invested in the characters so much so that I was desperate to see how they would fare. Would Sophie’s spell be broken? What would happen to Calcifer once the contract was broken? Would Howl find the love he was searching for? Would Michael get his happily ever after? I really did care for each of them. The animated scarecrow and the Witch of the Waste were truly terrifying characters. They were brilliant! There were twists and turns that I did not expect and the ending was a shock. This book really does have it all, once I finished reading I went straight onto the library website to reserve a copy of the second book in the series.