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I Want a Window On Wales

A review of Howl's Moving Castle by Diana Wynne Jones, which has Erin professing adoration and . . . other feelings for its main characters.

I Want a Window On Wales

BOOK REPORT for Howl's Moving Castle by Diana Wynne Jones

BFF Charm: Yay
Swoonworthy Scale: 6
Talky Talk: Here There Be Dragons
Bonus Factors: Talking Fires, Apprenticeship, Wales, Moody Narcissists, Crotchety (Old) Ladies
Relationship Status: Harry Potter, We Were On A Break!

The Deal:

Sophie lives in the land of Ingary, in which most everyone can agree on a few basic facts:

1.  The eldest child will never amount to much of anything.

2.  The Witch of the Waste is not someone to be trifled with.

3.  Wizard Howl, with his Moving Castle, is someone you want to avoid. He eats girls' souls.

Sophie is doing just fine, thank you very much, at living her life by those basic rules. After her father dies, her stepmother sends Sophie's two younger sisters off to apprentice in different shops in Market Chipping, and Sophie stays at home to learn the hat-making trade. Sure, life is tedious, and dull, and Sophie retreats deeply into herself, but at least she hasn't come across any vengeful witches or wizards.

Until the day she does, of course. The Witch of the Waste curses Sophie and turns her into an old woman. It is this act that finally pushes Sophie out into the world to try to make her way in life. And it's that act which brings Sophie smack into Howl's moving castle, in which she finds a talking fire named Calcifer, the clumsy but endearing wizard apprentice Matthew, and the narcissistic, selfish, cowardly, amazingly awesome Wizard Howl.

As Sophie tries to break her curse, she, Howl and the other castle occupants jet around the land of Ingary (and modern-day Wales), avoiding the Witch of the Waste and sorting out curses, rescue schemes and romantic entanglements in endearingly humorous ways.

BFF Charm: Yay!

I LOVE SOPHIE HATTER SO MUCH. Seriously, I want to erect a shrine to this girl in my closet, with little clippings of snarky old ladies and fancy hats, except that's a little creepy and if I'm creepy then she won't want to be my friend. And I need her as a BFF, because anyone as awesomely snarky and frank as Sophie is someone I need to befriend immediately.

Most people, if cursed by a witch, would probably give up, but Sophie takes her creaking, old-lady bones on an adventure. And most girls (including me) would be reduced to a swooning mess upon meeting the handsome, vain Howl, but Sophie just lets him know exactly how idiotic he's being, on an almost hourly basis.

Sophie, if I weren't so in love with your magician landlord, I WOULD PROPOSE MARRIAGE TO YOU. But I hope that you will at least take my BFF charm.

Swoonworthy Scale: 6

Howl and Sophie have the kind of relationship I love. They're snarky and insulting and get on each other's nerves all the time, but you can tell that, secretly, they respect the hell out of each other. And every time they snipe at each other, or Sophie tries to undo one of Howl's lady-seducing spells, or Howl is bitter that Sophie has moved something he needs, I found myself screaming "JUST DO IT ALREADY!" Seriously, folks, there have been actual relationships in my own romantic past that I've been less invested in. "Does that boy like me? Eh. Maybe. BUT SOPHIE AND HOWL NEED TO GET TOGETHER RIGHT NOW OHMYGOD I CAN'T EAT OR SLEEP OR BREATHE WHY WON'T THEY CALL."

For a book that really has very little romance, DWJ knows exactly how to make a reader pant for more.

Talky Talk: Here There Be Dragons

I'll be the first to admit that fantasy novels are not my bread-and-butter. This is really a bit ironic, since The Hobbit was the first book I ever read on my own, and I loved it so much that I read it over and over again in my elementary school years. And after I was dragged, kicking and screaming, to Harry Potter, I of course fell in love with it, as one does. But, I'm not super into dragons and witches and warlocks and elves in general, so it took me a while to realize why books like HP and LotR and Howl's Moving Castle were awesome, and other fantasy books I've read left me cold.

The difference, I think, is that in some fantasy novels, the fantasy element is just the setting, only the beams and rafters of the stage. The story is the people on that stage, and how they fall in love, or struggle, or triumph. That's good fantasy. In some fantasy novels, however, the fantasy is all there is. That's the sort of fantasy book I won't have truck with.

Thankfully, Howl's Moving Castle falls firmly in the Good Fantasy category, so all of the wizards and spells and curses are only the light-hearted, whimsical icing on the solid, rich, satisfying people cake.

Bonus Factor: Talking Fires

Who doesn't love a fire that talks, amirite? Okay, so, if I actually had a fire - wait, scratch that, rewind. If I actually lived in a place where it got cold enough to NEED a fire, and then I built that fire, and then it TALKED TO ME, I'd probably get pretty freaked out. But surely all fires in castles talk?

Plus, Calcifer is one hell of a talking fire. Can I give a BFF charm to a flame? Will it melt?

Bonus Factor: Apprenticeship

I really wish that apprenticeships had not gone with the wind. Cause I'm here to tell ya, you can read and study about things as much as you want, but until you're doing them, it's all kind of pointless. (Still fun! Just pointless!) We need more crochety old people to show snivelling little upstarts how to tell their ass from their elbow, as my father would say (in a crochety manner)!

Bonus Factor: Wales

Despite my trips over to the United Kingdom, I've not once hopped on a train and ventured over to Wales, despite the fact that it has:

• beautiful scenery

•  sheep

•  Barry Island, in which I remain convinced I can locate Nessa and befriend her

•  Torchwood Three

•  my boyfriend's alma mater

But someday, Wales. Someday!

Bonus Factor: Moody Narcissists

So, as an educated and enlightened woman, I'm not supposed to give much time or attention to moody narcissistic men who are flighty, feckless and expect people to fawn over them. But let's be honest. Those men are hot.

And Howl, oh, Wizard Howl, I WANT YOU TO BE INSIDE ME. Um, sorry. That was probably an overshare. But it's true. Howl of the moving castle, won't you please be mine?? I promise not to unsew your spells from the lining of your suits!

Bonus Factor: Crotchety (Old) Ladies

Man, I cannot wait until I'm an old lady. Old ladies get away with whatever they want. Old Southern ladies get away with even more than that, mostly because everyone's a tiny bit terrified of them. Want to play Bingo all day, everyday? Sure, go ahead! Want to go to the grocery store wearing your nightgown, a feather boa, a large church hat and plaid keds? Go for it! Want to tell everyone exactly how you feel about them, in the most sarcastic way possible? You've earned it! Crochety old ladies, YOU ARE MY HEROES.

Sophie, of course, isn't really old, so much as really accursed, but she brings it in the most crochety, sarcastic ways possible.

Casting Call:

This book was made into a movie already, BUT it was animated, so I still get to cast it!

 

Molly Quinn as Sophie

She'll have to lighten her hair just a bit, but not too ginger, since of course, ginger will never do. But she already has smart-girl-sass on my favorite it's-just-a-pleasure show Castle, so I have confidence she could pull off Sophie.

I'm actually completely stumped on who could play Howl. Readers! Help me out! Who would look good as a blonde, or blue-haired, or dressed all in black, or occassionally dressed as a horse?

Relationship Status: Harry Potter, We Were On a Break!

Look, Harry Potter. We've been together for a really long time now. But for about a year or so, you've been really distant. Oh, sure, you still sit around the house, and I can look at you and find comfort, but where's the excitement? Where's the romance? Yeah, you've promised me that things will pick up, that in November, you'll finally be done with your "post-production" and will take me out and show me a good time. But November's a long time away! And I feel like, if I revisit our past, like I usually do in the summertime, I'll only be disappointed in our Big November Date. And that's why I sat you down at the beginning of this summer and calmly told you that I thought we needed a break.

I felt bad for a while, and I wondered if I could ever love again, but last week I was out, and this other book beckoned to me. I told myself that it was a mistake, that it wouldn't compare to you, but some of my friends urged me to ask it out. "You've been sitting at home alone too much reading terrible books," they said. "It's not good for you."

So, shyly, I asked out Howl's Moving Castle, and to my surprise, it said yes. And then it proceeded to take me on a whimsical, fun-filled, swoonworthy date last Sunday, and I never wanted it to end. We had SUCH a good time together! I just want to date it over and over again!

In the end, though, I know that the excitement and joy and sparkles I feel about Howl's Moving Castle can't compare to the deep, rich history that you and I have shared, Harry Potter. But . . . I'm still going to continue to date it. Just until you're free in November! And then I'll stop! . . . Probably.

Howl's Moving Castle is the FYA Book Club selection for July 2012!

Erin Callahan's photo About the Author: Erin is loud, foul-mouthed, an unrepentant lover of trashy movies and believes that champagne should be an every day drink. When she isn't drowning in a sea of engineers for whom Dilbert is still uproariously funny, she's writing about books, tv, the cult of VC Andrews and more.
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