Monday, 26 March 2012

Howl's Moving Castle

It's one year today since the wonderfully talented writer Diana Wynne Jones passed away.

She wrote so many wonderful works, including Archer's Goon which was adapted into a kids' TV series that I used to watch when I got home from school. It starred Roger Lloyd-Pack (Trigger) from Only Fools and Horses.

However, the one that she is perhaps most famous for is Howl's Moving Castle, which was adapted to anime by Studio Ghibli.

Like many, I knew the film before I found the books. I fell head over heels in love with Howl, Sophie and Calcifer.

The books run as a trilogy:

Book One: Howl's Moving Castle

The first book introduces the key characters of Wizard Howl, Sophie and Calcifer.

It tells the story of how the eldest hat-maker's daughter, Sophie, is turned into an old woman by the Witch of the Waste. Whilst on her way to find her sister, who is studying magic and may be able to lift the curse, she accidentally ends up in Howl's Moving Castle.

The Wizard Howl is feared throughout Ingary for eating young girls' hearts, but Sophie thinks she has nothing to fear because she has been turned old.

Howl himself is a magnificently complex character: dazzling, dashing, charming and a complete coward prone to depressive tantrums. His antics at trying to charm every woman he meets, even Sophie's own sister, start to raise a modicum of jealousy.

Meanwhile, Sophie has promised Calcifer, the fire demon that keeps the moving castle moving, that she will find a way to break the bond of slavery on him if he will help to rid her of her own curse.

Book Two: Castle in the Air

Book two in the Moving Castle trilogy begins very differently, and in a land far, far away called Zanzib, where Abdullah, a carpet trader harassed by his father's family, is trying to eke out a living opposite his good friend's fried squid stall.

But nobody leads a simple life in these books, and Abdullah soon finds himself the owner of a magic flying carpet and a genie. He has also fallen for Flower-in-the-night, daughter of the Sultan, to whom he is magically transported each night when he sleeps on the flying carpet.

However, a dastardly demon has stolen Howl's moving (and now flying) castle and is using it as a holding place whilst he abducts every princess on earth - including Flower-in-the-night.

This book also introduces Howl and Sophie's son: Morgan.

Book Three: House of Many Ways

For the final book in the series, we move to High Norland, where the King and his elderly daughter have lived in poverty for years because someone is stealing all the gold from the treasury.

Sophie is called in to investigate, bringing with her Morgan (now a toddler) and Howl in the disguise of Twinkle, a second - and very mischievous - child.

The story also involves Charmain, granddaughter of Royal Wizard William, whose house she looks after whilst he is taken away by elves to be cured of a mystery illness. She begrudgingly shares this responsibility with Peter, his new apprentice.

What's more, the strange goings on at the palace have something to do with Lubbocks and Kobolds. The first are giant insects which lay their eggs in people, and the second are small, blue creatures that do housework.

Image courtesy of AnimeGalleries.Net

In the DVD extras of Stephen King's 1986 classic Stand by Me - also an adaptation - he explained (paraphrasing badly) that: 'Books and films are like apples and oranges. Both good, but for different reasons.'

One of the outstanding differences with Howl is that, in the film, he rescues Sophie from a group of letchy blokes outside a pub. In the books, he is the letchy bloke outside the pub.

For that, I loved these books from the first moment I turned the page. The film also neglects to mention Howl's Welsh heritage. Yes, Howl is a good name for a Wizard in the Waste, but actually his real real name is Howell Jenkins, and the black door in his castle leads not to the abyss, but to Wales... though you could, I won't.

The wonderful thing about Diana Wynne Jones is that her characters are flawed, and therefore real. Like all the best fairy tales, Prince Charming isn't always that. As for the Princess, well, she can kick some arse if she needs to. It's good soul food for young and old alike.

I shall leave you with one of my favourite pieces of music. It's from the Ghibli adaptation, titled The Merry-go-round of Life, played by Joe Hisaishi.

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