Thursday, March 21, 2019

Why do I like Howl's Moving Castle so much?

This is an important question, particularly during #MarchMagics #DWJMarch, when we celebrate all things Diana Wynne Jones (head to Kristen's blog on March 23 for the Howl's Moving Castle readalong).

I just reread the book and then rewatched the Miyazaki animated movie, and they both made me so happy I just had to sit down to analyze what is so wonderful about them. (Illustrations (other than the one from the movie below) are taken from the finalists in the Folio Society's competition to illustrate their edition of Howl's Moving Castle. Aren't they all gorgeous?! (Bigger versions at the link.) The winner is Marie-Alice Harel, and I am putting her illustrated edition on my Christmas wishlist now!)

Studio Ghibli

Katerina Cupova
The castle. What a fantastically brilliant, endlessly interesting idea. Like much of DWJ's magic, it's weird and complicated and there's no explanation of how it actually works. And yet, somehow it resonates as something that really should exist. Because doors—thresholds—are inherently magical, so being able to open a door into one place and then open it again into another—it just makes sense on some fundamental level. And the castle's movement is both metaphysical—inhabiting several places at the same time—and literal: the castle actually moves around, which is ridiculous and incongruous and hilarious and also ties back to folktales like Baba Yaga, so there's something deep in our psyche that believes in moving castles. Then DWJ isn't satisfied with all the levels of movement she's already got, so she moves the moving castle. (No, it makes sense, really!) That scene has got to be the most mind-blowing bit of magic any magician has ever accomplished! And the movie does it quite well.
Alejo and Vivian de los Rios

Lulu Chen
Sophie. One of my all-time-favourite characters, literary girl-crushes, people-whose-head-I-want-to-spend-time-in. I related (and still do relate) so much to her: I'm an oldest child; nothing exciting was ever going to happen to me; I was the responsible one who wanted her sisters to go out and find their dreams. But when Sophie starts talking to hats you can see DWJ's brilliance at creating characters: maybe she's quiet and responsible, but Sophie is also observant and imaginative and funny, and she has power she knows nothing about. (DWJ leaves it to us to figure this last part out. You can miss it the first time you read those pages.) When she is struck with the curse turning her into an old lady, her response is perfectly unexpected and perfectly in character and perfectly hilarious. She channels her inner old lady and marches off to stand up to wizards, sorceresses, kings and demons. (She's still pretty terrified of scarecrows, though.) I think the movie gets Sophie perfectly (even though they miss out on her power).

Marie-Alice Harel

Marina Evlanova
Howl. "He's fickle, careless, selfish, and hysterical ... but then I find out how awfully kind he's been to someone." "My impression," said the King, "was that Howl is an unprincipled, slippery rogue with a glib tongue and a clever mind." "You left out how vain he is." A very powerful wizard with some serious character flaws: Howl is so much fun! On this reread  I finally put my finger on what makes him so compellingly attractive: He respects Sophie. He whines at her, gets exasperated with her, complains about her, but he treats her as an equal, holds her agency inviolable and trusts her moral compass. He tries to protect her, but he listens to what she wants and seeks out her opinion. The movie portrays this very well, though I don't think Miyazaki made him grumpy enough!

Marie-Alice Harel
Kateřina Čupová
This post will get far too long if I talk about Calcifer, the fire demon, who was brilliantly voiced by Billy Crystal in the movie, or about Sophie's sisters and the brief but warm glimpses of sisterhood, or about all the layers of themes like illusion and deception and identity and what it means to have a heart. The movie makes some significant changes to the plot, but it gets the essence, and it's beautiful and colorful and a lot of fun.

I'm off to experiment with ginger lemon oatmeal cookies, which if they turn out to be as delicious and bright and different as I'm hoping will be the perfect food metaphor.

Thursday, March 7, 2019

#MarchMagics and #DWJMarch

A bit late off the mark, but I wanted to send everyone to We Be Reading, where Kristen is hosting her annual celebration of Terry Pratchett and Diana Wynne Jones.

This month the read-alongs are Pratchett's Wee Free Men (discussion starting March 9) and Diana Wynne Jones' Howl's Moving Castle (discussion starting March 23). These are both ultimate comfort reads for me, so I will be happy to participate.

Also I'm going to rewatch Miyazaki's beautiful animated movie of Howl's Moving Castle.

But I think my goal this month will be to read one of the few of her books I haven't read yet (I've been saving them as little treats to myself.) Hmmm. Possibly Wild Robert.

Unfortunately, I'm behind on the reading I wanted to already have done, because I had the flu, and I was so sick I couldn't read! (That's the worst!) And of course there are all the other things I couldn't get done while I was sick. Well, even if I don't manage to reread Wee Free Men by this Saturday, I've practically memorized the thing, so I can still join the discussion!