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Howl’s Moving Castle by Diana Wynne Jones

July 24, 2010

I never thought I’d find myself saying this, but the novel just didn’t have the same charm as its movie adaptation.

First, a little background: Howl’s Moving Castle is better known as an anime film by veteran filmmaker Hayao Miyazaki, that guy who manages to produce hit after hit after hit like Pixar.  (He’s also responsible for Princess Mononoke and Ponyo).  Howl’s Moving Castle the movie is a richly layered fairy tale with a Beauty and the Beast love story at its core.  The characters are complex and original.  The visuals are stunning.

So, the novel that Miyazaki got his idea from must be great, right?  Well … all of the characters have the same names.  That’s about as far as the resemblance carries.

Diana Wynne Jones was not trying to write a fairy tale when she wrote Howl’s Moving Castle the book.  Her aim was more of a madcap comedy.  And a mystery.   …and a romance … and a parody.  The final product ends up being none of these, not quite.  On top of much of the material found in the film, Howl’s Moving Castle the book contains an entire extra dimension, a shapeshifting dog-man, a John Donne poem, several cases of mistaken identity, and an evil plot by the Witch of the Waste that’s introduced in the last chapter and makes absolutely no sense.  There’s so much clutter in here that the poor characters are shunted to the sidelines, mere shadows of themselves.  Diana Wynne Jones writes like she’s trying to cover ground.

Miyazaki was right to pare the story down to what really matters: Howl’s heart and who it belongs to.  By doing so, the movie has a living heart, too.  The novel has a heart in there, but it’s hard to see under all those layers of stuff.

To sum up, rather blah.  One of the redeeming features of the novel was its send-up of traditional fairy tale elements, but if you’re in the mood for that, go read Terry Pratchett.  Go read Terry Pratchett right now.

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