Book Review: Howl’s Moving Castle

By: Ruby A.

         In Howl’s Moving Castle, Sophie Hatter sets out to seek her fortune and find a way to break the curse set on her, tasks that everyone believes are impossible. 

Howl’s Moving Castle was written in such a way that the reader is entranced, but does not know that the book is really a mystery novel until it is resolved.  Jones uses magic, mystery, and even chapter titles to wrap the storyline around the reader until the reader cannot put the book down.  Once the reader is captured by the story, the theme comes up and shows that false identities change how a person thinks and acts.  Finally, using the theme of disguise, it is shown that just because something is thought true, that does not make it so.

Throughout Howl there are many disguises and false identities.  Jones states many things about these disguises.  The first is that appearances often change how one acts.  Sophie is more confident under her curse, a spell that has changed her into an old woman.  Similarly, the wizard Howl feels in control behind his disguises and lies.  This illustrates that when someone uses a different identity she does not feel threatened by judgment.  At a masquerade ball a timid, shy girl can ask a boy she would like to dance (if she knows where he is) because no one knows it is her, and cannot judge or make fun of her for asking that boy.

Disguises are often used because of fear.  Many characters in this book are afraid of what others would think of them if they were themselves, leading the characters to engage in more lies. And, conversely, when a character drops her lies and false identities is when she is at her most courageous because she no longer has anything to hide behind.  When Sophie finally drops her disguise as an old woman, she is no longer scared.  She knows that she is brave and strong enough to protect herself without it.

Jones uses both magic and mystery to engross the reader through out the entire story.  There are such things as seven-league boots (that enable the wearer to walk seven leagues in one stride) and the ability to talk life into objects.  There are no magic wands, and spells are closer to what is thought of as potions in Harry Potter.  Magic takes the disguises and makes them twice as good as they would be without it.  It is much easier to fool people when there is a complex spell, or two, in between.  This type of magic is new and unknown to readers but Jones does an artful job of explaining such things just enough to incorporate them smoothly into the storyline.  In most stories that include magic, magic is the whole plot, but in Howl magic is a complement to the storyline.  It helps deepens the message of the book. 

Disguises are not only used when one is fearful, but also when one is running away from destiny.  The destinies of the three Hatter sisters are not their own, but those assigned to them by an old wives tale.  When the sisters decide that they do not want that destiny they use disguise so that they can do what they please and not disturb anyone by not conforming.  At the end of the book the three sisters, the other characters, and the reader realize that everyone should follow the destiny they want, and not to be restricted by what others think.  Just because something is commonly thought does not make it true.

Disguise enters another time, but this time it is to increase reading enjoyment.  Howl is a mystery disguised as an adventure.  In the last few chapters of Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows Rowling uses one last and engaging mystery to resolve the story, and enthrall the reader, similar to how Jones does.  The big difference between the two is that in Harry Potter, Harry solves the mystery before the reader does which can be captivating and encourage the reader to finish the book.  But it can also discourage the reader into thinking that she missed a piece of the puzzle.  This is not so in Howl.  Sophie does not understand the whole mystery and does not solve it until the very last page, along with the reader. This writing style is even more captivating than the way Rowling writes the last passages of Harry Potter.

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