Shelf Care: Escape to the world of Howl’s Moving Castle, Arts News & Top Stories

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Howl’s moving castle

By Diana Wynne Jones
Green willow / 1986/429 pages / $ 17.53 / Available here

The novels by British author Diana Wynne Jones, with their fantastic worlds, have been my favorite escape readings since I was young.

And unlike a lot of the books I loved as a kid, they’ve retained their magic into adulthood.

Most of her novels are brilliant, but Howl’s Moving Castle remains my favorite for its whimsical world-building and sane heroine.

It was made into an acclaimed film in 2004 by animation legend Hayao Miyazaki. Still, in a way, the book is even better.

Sophie Hatter’s life as a small town milliner is turned upside down when she accidentally comes into conflict with the vindictive Trash Witch and transforms into an elderly woman.

Seeking to reverse her curse, Sophie begins guarding the home of Howl, a supposedly heartless wizard who lives in a wandering castle.

Its gate can open to four different locations – from a bustling harbor town to flower fields – and is powered by a grumpy fire demon, Calcifer.

The book may be for the kids, but it’s very well put together. The Curse at Its Heart is based on John Donne’s Song poem (Go and catch a shooting star), with the things impossible in the worms – singing mermaids, mandrake roots carrying children – gradually becoming literal. Solving it makes for a delicious puzzle.

He also gently subverts the tropes of fairy tales. Sophie, the eldest of three sisters, expects to be sidelined by fate, the adventure being reserved for the youngest, but gradually discovers that she is quite powerful in her own right.

Howl, who has a reputation for devouring the hearts of young women, is actually not a villain, just a very melodramatic narcissist.

There is no love at first sight here, just two very knowledgeable people engaging in banter as they attempt to save kingdoms, keep their homes clean, and more. It’s the perfect novel for anyone who wants to be able to turn the doorknob, open the door, and be somewhere else.

Shelf Care is a bi-weekly column that recommends uplifting, heartwarming, or escape books to read while staying at home during the Covid-19 pandemic.

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