Monday, March 8, 2010

Stuff I Love: Howl's Moving Castle

I’ve decided that every Sunday night, I’m going to post about something that I 100% adore. 

This week, it’s Howl’s Moving Castle. 

I first read Howl’s Moving Castle when I was about 16 years old or so.  I was going through my “I only read CLASSICS” stage; I would sniff disdainfully at my peers who had a Stephen King or a Dean Koontz under their arm, and proclaim the superiority of Elizabethan playwrights. 

I was not a popular kid.

However, I did have a shamefaced secret.  I was a voracious and indiscriminate fantasy reader.  I haunted a used paperback store near my house, and gobbled up all of the dragons, knights and damsels I could get my hands on.  Unfortunately, since I was shopping at a junky used book store, I read a lot of crap.  Sometimes, it seems like any author who can spell dragon thinks they can write a fantasy novel.  Most of these were straight up Tolkien rip-offs.  Some took Star Wars as their guiding text.  Others just novelized the D&D handbook. Objectively, I would say that 85%  of what I read was terrible.

I remember the day I found Howl’s Moving Castle on the shelf.  In my memory, it was shrouded by a golden glow, in a shaft of divine light, but I’m pretty sure that wasn’t the case.  It cost $1.50, which was a whole hour of babysitting for me.  Normally, I only paid $0.25 for my paperbacks; but something told me to blow my budget for this one. 

I started reading it that night.  I finished it the next day.  I loved it.  I loved absolutely everything about it.  I loved Sophie, and how she went from a timid young girl to a feisty old woman.  I loved Howl, who seemed stupid and vain but was really charming and brave.  I loved that it was a love story, but not the gushing, quivering kind.  I think it showed me that anybody could change, and that we’re not always what we pretend to be; be it a womanizing, responsibility shirking wizard or a gloom-obsessed, fake-snob, gothy 16 year old. 

Many years later, as an “adult” I decided that liking fantasy was nothing to be ashamed of, and started being a little more choosy about what I read.  I found books I liked, and books I hated, but none of them moved me like Howl’s Moving Castle did.  It was a perfect example of the right book at the right time.   

Many, many, many years later, the god of anime, Hayao Miyazaki, made an anime version of Howl’s Moving Castle.  I was worried.  I loved the book so much, there was no way I could love any adaptation.  I actually refused to see it in a theater, not wanting to be disappointed.   My husband brought home the DVD as a surprise.   I couldn’t weasel out of it, I had to see it.

If the book Howl’s Moving Castle taught me that people aren’t always what they seem, the movie taught me that stories change depending not just by how they’re told, but by who’s telling them.   This is Miyazaki’s story, not Wynne-Jones’ and that makes all the difference. The tales might share characters and a few circumstances, but the two creators have different things to say.   I love the movie, which is beautiful and a little strange and sort of melancholy. 

 I don’t know if there’s a great way to end this post other than to say I love this book, and I love this movie, and that I think that you should read one and watch the other.  They probably won’t have the same meaning for you than they do for me, but, they are still great works of fiction.  

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