Kristen M. posted some discussion questions for the first readalong book of Diana Wynne Jones Month: Howl’s Moving Castle! Yay! I’m gonna answer them instead of doing a proper review. Because I said so.
1. Was this your first time reading the story or was it a re-read? If it was a re-read, was it better this time (Jenny’s Law)?
This was my third(?) time reading HMC and I think it was…a tiny bit worse than before. Every other time I’ve read it, I’ve rated it 5 birds (or more!). This time around it’s “only” a four. Possibly I was still annoyed at Sophie and Howl from having read a sequel first. Since Howl’s Moving Castle STARS them, though, I wasn’t actually annoyed at them while I read it, so that’s good!
I’d also watched the movie a lot more times than I’ve read the book (because I didn’t HAVE the book, but I did have the movie!) so I kept getting bits from the movie confused with bits from the book. The movie changes a lot of the plot, and the characters, and though it’s a good movie I still like the book better. I like intricate things, and multiple subplots getting tied up at the end! There’s a lot more detail in the book than I remembered, so I had a lot of fun rereading all the stuff I’d forgotten.
(Problem: I kept hearing Emily Mortimer’s Sophie as book!Sophie’s voice. And it was ANNOYING. I really don’t like the dubbed version of the movie– because of the voices, see! Le sigh.)
2. What did you think of all of the characters who weren’t “themselves” — Sophie, Howl, Calcifer, the Witch of the Waste, Lettie, Martha, Prince Justin, Wizard Suliman? In fact, which characters, if any, did you think were truly honest? Michael? Fanny? Mrs. Pentstemmon?
I liked Michael a lot, probably because he was so obviously honest. I don’t remember noticing him much in earlier readings, so this time around he must have hit some special chord with me.
I was sympathetic towards Sophie and Howl because they had to hide themselves in order to feel comfortable in their surroundings. Sophie felt she couldn’t be herself in her real body– because of that whole “first kids never prosper” thing– so when she became an old lady she felt free. Though she could have broken the enchantment (or Howl could have), she liked the freedom being old gave her, so she stayed that way.
Howl, meanwhile, felt he had to hide bits of himself (like his soft heart) because of reasons. Professional reasons, I suppose? Being a wizard is a dangerous thing, so it’s better not to leave all your soft parts exposed. Also he’s vain (like the Witch of the Waste).
The others were either enchanted against their will or only disguised themselves temporarily for a specific thing. That’s different than deliberately constructing false identities for long-term gain! 😀 Sophie and Howl are very tricky; I definitely wouldn’t trust them to say what they mean at any time, except maybe to each other.
3. Why does Sophie never really experiment with her powers even after she accepts that she is a witch?
This series is WEIRD about magical women! It’s like there’s two kinds: those who accept their magical abilities and really go for it (Mrs. Pentstemmon, the Witch of the Waste), and those who kinda do but mostly ignore it (Sophie). It’s very frustrating! Sophie’s got weird magic, though, so maybe she thinks it’s not “proper” magic like with spells and whatnot. And so she doesn’t think it’s good? So she doesn’t work to get better at it. Maybe if she had a teacher or something…hm. (She does get better about using magic in the companion books, fyi.)
4. If the moving castle is the physical embodiment of Howl’s “slither-outer”ness, now that he’s actually managed to find real love and accomplish a few things, is it time to give up the castle?
Nah. Like his secretly soft heart, Howl is actually a gooey romantic. Remember where he made the new entrances to the castle? Places Sophie liked or where she used to live/wanted to live. As long as she’s fine with the castle, he’ll be fine living there, too.
One of my favorite forgotten things was the poetry-as-spell aspect. It’s so elegant! And kinda sinister. And really lovely. I don’t remember DWJ doing something like that in her other books, though maybe it shows up in one I haven’t read yet. Usually her spells are either simple (like Sophie talking to things) or the characters just wave something around and BOOM, magic.
I also really liked the scene where Sophie and Michael talk to the falling star. It’s so powerful and sad– and then when you realize what Calcifer really is (or was)…wow!
What’s your favorite part of Howl’s Moving Castle?