An Open Love Letter to Diana Wynne Jones – Film Fest Friday

While it is indeed Film Fest Friday, I just  want to note that this entry also counts as an accomplishment: I crossed off my “Howl’s Moving Castle” square on Literary Bingo!

Howl's Moving Castle, 2004

Howl’s Moving Castle
Book release: 1986
Movie release: 2004
Where to watch: I have one request – just try it with the original Japanese voice work. It’s charming, a little deadpan and sincere. And Calcifer! I love that crabby voice.

I’ve loved Diana Wynne Jones since I was a kid. It started with Darklord of Derkholm. The wizardry, the creatures! I think it was Diana that drove me to JK, Neil and Terry, my other long time loves. But I loved her first.

My shelf is full of her creations. I blame Diana for my inability to buy books by unfamiliar authors – I just got into the habit of buying her one after another.

I cried, all alone in an airport terminal, when I found out she died. I owe her a debt of gratitude for stoking my love of fantasy, adding kindling to a fire that started with fairy tales when I was young. And no one quite creates a world like she does.

And yet, I have a great shame to confess, for all my love of her. I have had Castle in the Air since I was 13. I loved it – it was like a different kind of Arabian Nights, exotic and mystical, but funny and quirky and strange. The characters were so wonderfully varied – the ever-dreaming Abdullah and his jiggly fiancées, Flower-in-the-Night and her large, intelligent piercing eyes. The cats, the carpet who needed to be sweet talked, the djinns.

I swear to you I had no idea that this lovely, funny book was a sequel. Not until I was in my 20’s and first introduced to the imaginative world of Hayao Miyazaki.

I fell in love with Howl’s Moving Castle as its own unique entity.  Howl’s arrogance, Sophie’s nosy practicality, the wonderful weirdness of the story. I watched at least twice before it clicked

I know these characters from somewhere.

There was an inkling at first, sure.  How common is a name like Calcifer or Howl, anyway? I finally got wise and actually looked up the backstory behind the creation of this movie, but by then, I was content to reread Castle and peruse the rest of the Studio Ghibli library. I loved them separately, but equally.

But no more.

Once my copy of Howl’s Moving Castle arrived in its tidy Amazon package a couple weeks ago, it was a matter of days before I devoured it and loved it anew. Diana’s Howl was still arrogant, Sophie still pushy. Sure, the story was different, but the spirit of it remained across both mediums.

The story follows Sophie, a young hatter, who doesn’t like to be noticed and frankly, has a few self esteem issues. Through a curse, she ends up an old lady, which spurs her to care less what people think and to wander away until she runs in with the Wizard Howl, his wonderful moving castle, and his lackeys Michael and Calcifer. The rest of the story is a bit convoluted in both the book and movie, but both are punctuated with a hilarious dynamic between the lothario Howl, the bossy Sophie, and some mysterious business involving curses, witches, wizards and The Waste.

The thing I love most about this story – more in the book, than the movie, I think – is that despite the magic and spells and fire demons, there’s a sort of matter-of-factness to it. The romance of the story is just so simple, sweet and dare I say, sensible. No big romantic gestures, no fireworks. Just “I think we ought to live happily ever after.”

I could sit and pick apart what I liked and didn’t like about each medium, but honestly, I just love them both. Especially that melodramatic scene with Howl and the slime (though the look on Sophie’s face when he loses his towel in the movie is priceless). They’re separate, but similar, in a very complementary way.

When Miyazaki screened the movie for DWJ, she said it best:

“It’s fantastic. No, I have no input — I write books, not films. Yes, it will be different from the book — in fact it’s likely to be very different, but that’s as it should be. It will still be a fantastic film.”

And so was your book, Diana.

One comment

  1. I actually just read Howl’s at the behest of another book blogger and really liked it. And no worries, I cried at my desk, at work, in front of people when Ray Bradbury died. And he was like 95, so I had had some time to prepare myself for this. We’re passionate souls 🙂


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