Books that Matter: Howl’s Moving Castle by Diana Wynne Jones

Books that Matter

The first of my “Books that Matter” series of essays.

Howl’s Moving Castle by Diana Wynne Jones remains one of my favorite books, close to ten years after I first read it.

The main characters, from Sophie to Howl to Calcifer to Michael feel like people I know. I care about them, I laugh at their comments, and delight in their flaws. They grow and progress as characters over the course of the book and do so organically. Their actions make sense, and above all, are believable.

Secondly, Ms Wynne Jones’s writing style. The pacing is good, and the book is genuinely funny. Like classic Disney movies and Pixar films, the book operates on two levels–the “ooh, this is fun! I like this!” level I first enjoyed as a young teen–and a different, can’t-quite-put-my-finger-on-it level I appreciate now that I’m older. I’m close to Sophie’s age (I think I’m actually a little older than she is), but I can relate to her.

The humor. The characters. As a writer, I hope to infuse my own work with a clearly humorous note, and have characters that shine, and are memorable. Her humor is traceable back to the characters, capitalizing on their flaws and little tics, such as when the terribly vain Howl fills the castle with green slime because his hair has turned ever-so-slightly ginger. While not a realistic situation, I’m sure that many of us have known a vain person in our lives or wanted to cover stuff in slime when having a bad day.

Ms Wynne Jones, you were a fantastic writer. I had always dreamed of meeting you, of telling you how much your books mattered to me when I was younger, and how much I still enjoy them today. When I have children of my own, I will be certain to share my love of your books with them. Rest in peace.

Revisiting Old Favorites

The Twirl and Swirl of Letters

Over the last two weeks, I’ve been hit with a desire to reread books (actually, that’s a bit of a lie, as I’ve wanted to reread Howl’s Moving Castle since late March). While I love delving into new books, new stories and new plots, there’s something comforting about revisiting old friends. Through all change, if there is some consistency, even if it is merely a beloved story, things are a little easier (at least, that’s been my limited experience).

When I travel, I usually bring two books with me, one that I’ve read before (on my semester in Florence, I brought Roald Dahl’s Over to You and a couple of Patrick O’Brian’s works) and one that may be new to me. I figure, if the environment is too overwhelmingly unfamiliar, the least I can do to help the transition is find the comfort in the known.

Which brings me to the last two books I completed, Howl’s Moving Castle by Diana Wynne Jones and The Prestige by Christopher Priest. The first book has been one of my favorites for years, since I first read it in fifth grade or early middle school. There’s something about the story that I’ve  always loved, be it the characters, the setting, the wonderful inclusion of Wales…okay, I just really like this book. I can’t pinpoint a reason why, but I continue to love it even more as time goes on.

As for The Prestige, I read it first nearly four years ago to the day. I hadn’t reread it since, as every time I would sit down to it, another book would come my way, be it for school or a trip to the library. Knowing that I would have some spare time over the last two weeks, I brought it with me for my brief stay in Boston. I finished, and enjoyed it the second time through. Knowing the ending made picking up on the little details easier, but part of it still came as a surprise. Priest does a good job giving each character a distinct voice, even in the Borden section (those familiar with the book will know what I mean).

I didn’t love The Prestige the second time through. I still enjoyed it immensely and will probably reread it at another time. I still want to read more of Priest’s work, as I could learn a lot through him.

And, of course, the book still remains better than the movie starring Christian Bale, Hugh Jackman and David Bowie.