Howl's Moving Castle

Current Theme Song (aka what's playing on my ipod right now) Learn to Fly by Foo Fighters.

"In the land of Ingary where such things as seven-league boots and cloaks of invisibility really exist, it is quite a misfortune to be born the eldest of the three. Everyone knows you are the one who will fail first, and worst, if the three of you set out to seek your fortunes."

The moment I read those words, I knew I was in for something special and wholly wonderful. When I read them I was in high school and thought I knew everything. First of all stories, and especially any story with smallest fairy tale elements, never happen to the oldest sister. It is a near-cardinal law of the fairy tale universe. It is always the youngest who happens to always always be the prettiest. I hated that. I hated it. I am the oldest and all those stories seemed to teach me was you had to be fair, quiet, a princess (and the youngest princess at that). This was... different. To quote Nightmare Before Christmas, it was something new. Sophie is the oldest and a hat maker, and if that didn't turn my head, her turning into a ninety-year-old woman from a curse by the Witch of the Waste certainly did. So she must take refuge with the lecherous wizard Howl, who is said to eat girl's hearts. But of course, little is as it seems, as is so appropriate to Sophie's appearance.

To see Sophie (and indeed all the cast of Howl's Moving Castle) opened my eyes in a real way of who and what a book character could be. It was as if I had just taken off thick opaque lenses that had covered my entire vision and a much wider world opened up to me.

I knew stories and I knew fairy tales.* The girl was supposed to be sweet and charming and possibly even brave, but kind-hearted and good to the core. The hero would come and they would fall in love. He was dashing and kind. Diana Wynne Jones showed me a girl who were obstinate and contradictive, stubborn and who sometimes screamed and didn't always see things clearly and that was okay. She gave me a girl who fought with her at-the-time unknown love about whether to kill or keep spiders. She showed me a girl who made mistakes (many mistakes) and in turn it only made her more endearing. She showed me - myself. Not that I am that girl, but she gave me someone real, someone unique and someone I felt I knew.

But Diana also gave me something infinitely more valuable with this book. She gave me back my imagination. She took me back to the time when it was new and shiny, completely untouched, where anything within it was possible. I don't know how it happened, I certainly never noticed to slow, gradual closing of my vision, but my imagination became limited to a certain field, as if that was the definition and it knew what imagination and fantasy was.

Through many years (delightful years, mind you) I read story after story about poor orphan boys, and runaway children, chosen kids of prophecy with quests and swords and magical objects of untold power, simple horror stories and mysteries. Simple. Predictable. Safe. They weren't bad. I thoroughly enjoyed them. But they closed my limit of the world.

Then she came in and put a hole in my wall. She didn't come in by force or even in person. She just gave me a book, a story of my own to read, something new. And it changed everything. It blasted that veneer* and gave me castles that could move, doors that could take you different places with the turn of a knob, heroes who oozed green slime when they threw temper tantrums. It was like a breath of new air. Or very old air, because it was like remembering how to imagine again where there were no limits and anything was possible.

And it didn't end there. There were wizards with nine lives, stars who became dogs, good guys assigned to be bad guys for tourist's entertainment from an evil CEO, and so much more.

But this was the first, the first of a great many wonderful stories. And I will be forever grateful and indebted to her for that.

A few favorite quotes from Howl's Moving Castle

"Go to bed, you fool," Calcifer said sleepily. "You're drunk."
"Who, me?" said Howl. "I assure you, my friends, I am cone sold sober." He got up and stalked upstairs, feeling for the wall as if he thought it might escape him unless he kept in touch with it. His bedroom door did escape him.

"Yes, you are nosy. You're a dreadfully nosy, horribly bossy, appallingly clean old woman. Control yourself. You're victimizing us all."

"You've no right to walk into people's castles and take their guitars."

"You must admit I have a right to live in a pigsty if I want."

"I feel ill," [Howl] announced. "I'm going to bed, where I may die."

It is quite a risk to spank a wizard for getting hysterical about his hair.

"I'm delirious. Spots are crawling before my eyes."
"Those are spiders."

*I keep comparing this to a fairy tale, but it is not anything like one at all. It has elements common to fairy tales such as three sisters, and magic, and seven league boots, but little else. Like I said, it is something new. :)


Vanessa said...

I love this book! The opening line totally snagged me, as well.

Diana said...

Diana Wynne Jones is one of my favorite authors, or perhaps THE favorite. She was a very clever and imaginatively rich lady.