Howl’s Moving Castle: A Comparison of Book and Movie

Jessica Lin, Staff Writer

Howl’s Moving Castle, a fantasy novel published in 1986 by English author Diana Wynne Jones is part one of a trilogy including Castle in the Air and House of Many Ways. Many of her own life experiences such as having two sisters, a complicated household, and having lived during the war time period of World War II can be reflected in her writing of Howl’s Moving Castle’s setting and side characters. 

In 2004, Japanese animator Hayao Miyazaki of Studio Ghibli created a two hour film based on the book, also called Howl’s Moving Castle, or Hauru no ugoku shiro in Japanese. With other famous animations such as My Neighbor Totoro and Spirited Away, Studio Ghibli has received international recognition and Miyazaki was the recipient of the 2015 Oscars award. Influenced by his childhood, the movie reflects his young passion for flying airplanes in its airborne scenes. In addition, the movie does not fail to incorporate beautiful nature and water scenes, a distinct feature of Studio Ghibli films. 


Howl’s Moving Castle (Book)

The book takes place in the magical Land of Ingary in which two kingdoms are engaged in a war, and wizards and witches are required to report for service. The Wizard Howl Jenkins Pendragon owns multiple residences in the city of Kingsbury, town of Porthaven, and the Wastes disguised under various names. Using different aliases, he avoids his responsibility as a wizard and horrible rumors make his name ominous to the common folk. 

In the land of Ingary the eldest child is always doomed to a boring fate, Sophie Hatter, the eldest of three, has resigned herself to be the owner of her family’s hat shop. With a deft hand at making hats, Sophie manages the shop beautifully until an unlucky encounter that entailed a close escape with the Wizard Howl who, unbeknownst to Sophie, brought on the wrath Witch of the Waste. Suddenly cursed and tangled up with the magical world, the quiet Sophie leaves her dull life at the hat shop and steps into the magical world of Ingary.

When Sophie stumbles upon Howl’s moving castle in the Wastes, she introduces herself as Grandma Sophie and self employs herself as the much needed housekeeper. This unique situation somehow works out in the odd castle. Through the constant bickering between Howl and Grandma Sophie, they are quickly exposed to the worst of each other. After all, having a wizard, witch, wizard apprentice and a fire demon all under the same roof is just a potion ready to explode. 

In an interview with Jones about the movie adaptation, Jones mentions how both Sophie and Howl are more “noble” in the movie. In the book, Sophie is presented as a character with more selfishness that makes her relatable through her temper tantrums. In contrast, Howl is more caring than his first impressions show and comes to love Sophie and her sincere care towards the entire castle. 

A minor plot difference is that Sophie is an older sister to two sisters, Lettie and Martha, in the book rather than just one sister (Lettie) in the movie. While this difference does not affect the main plot of the movie, it sets up Sophie’s character as an older, caring sister in the book. In the book, Lettie and Martha use a spell and is the first bit of magic the reader is exposed to. Compared to the movie, this sets up Ingary as a land common in use of magic as opposed to just the dwelling places of great intimidating figures such as Howl and the Witch of the Waste. 


Howl’s Moving Castle (movie)

In the movie, a combination of the somber music and lighting isolate Sophie as a lone individual in the bustling town. Her lack of confidence and assertiveness make her outward appearance and personality compared to a “scared mouse” in the beginning of the movie. As the movie goes on, a less self-conscious Sophie is revealed after she is magically changed into a grandma. 

A unique take on the curse in the movie has Sophie’s curse shifting in response to her mood. It is speculated that when she acts more bravely and or feels more relaxed, the curse seems to ebb away revealing a physically younger version of herself. For example, in one scene of her sleeping, she has become fully young again. In another scene of her crying in the rain, her age shifts backwards from 90 years old to about 60 years old. Throughout the story, Sophie is a dynamic character who shows a caring person that extends beyond her family, yet fiery in her ability to let her emotions out.  

Howl presents as a flamboyant young man always wanting to escape from responsibility and in the face of tough situations. While proficient in magic, Howl often uses his magic towards trivial fancies such as beauty potions and spells, often leaving his apprentice neglected. Compared to the neat freak Sophie the housekeeping witch is, as she calls herself, Howl prefers an equally messy bathroom and bedroom with everything exactly where he tossed it.

What can be seen as the jewel of the movie is the distinct scenes of water that bring the animation to life. For fans, the meadow scene with the “Merry-go-round of Life” by Joe Hisaishi sounding in the background is a tear-wrenching scene due to its beauty and the intense feeling of nostalgia the sound track invokes. A detailed rain scene is a darkening stain spreading over Sophie’s dress under the rain, and the mixing of tears and raindrops show the detailed lighting of each scene. 

The book’s magical world is detailed in its character but leaves space for the reader to imagine more. Suitable for ages young to old, this addition makes a family movie night list and books to read over the summer list.