Wednesday, August 31, 2016

To Watch or To Read: Howl's Moving Castle

Book/Movie: Howl's Moving Castle
Author of Book: Diana Wynne Jones
Director of Film: Hayao Miyazaki/Studio Ghibli

Welcome to my first feature, To Watch or To Read?

I'll be comparing one book and its movie counterpart - discussing key differences and similarities as well as explaining which one I liked better. And... if you should watch or you should read. However, there are spoilers ahead! Be warned.

This will be my first time doing a book vs. movie feature for the blog, and because I love Studio Ghibli movies, my first book/movie I will be comparing is Howl's Moving Castle.

Fun fact - I never really watched Howl's Moving Castle in its entirety until now. I saw bits and pieces, but being able to watch it with knowledge of the book helped me love it even more. Studio Ghibli films will always hold a special place in my heart.

The general premise of both book and movie is that Sophie Hatter is the eldest daughter who does not believe she has anything to achieve, as she is the oldest. She feels that she will spend the rest of her days making hats in the hat shop her father left to her family. However, this changes when the Witch of the Waste curses Sophie, turning her into an old woman who cannot speak of her curse to anyone. Fearing her family will find her unrecognizable, she sets out and finds herself in Wizard Howl's 'moving' castle.

From here, the similarities end. Character wise, there are some characters left out or merged in the movie. Markl is Michael Fisher in the book, and he is described as being in his teens in the book, whereas in the movie he is much younger. Sophie only has one sister, Lettie (no Martha!) in the movie and she is barely mentioned. Sophie's sister play a bigger supporting role in the book, and even interacts with Michael and Howl at some points. In the movie, Wizard Suliman is described as Howl's former teacher instead of Mrs. Pentsemmon.

Perhaps the biggest character difference can be seen in their characterizations. The author, Diana Wynne Jones herself, has found Howl and Sophie of the film version to be "gentler and more noble than the characters in my books." Howl spends his time courting many girls, including Sophie's sister, Lettie, and argues much more often with Sophie. Sophie's strong-minded nature is featured much more often in the book, though the movie showed this occasionally through the curse. When watching the movie, I noticed that Sophie's old age receded whenever she was happy or did something out of character for her, aka whenever she stood up for herself. The movie, however, fails to mention that Sophie has some magic herself, which is why she charms things to life.

On the topic of villains, there is no clear villain in the movie. Miyazaki intended for the movie to have anti-war themes and challenge gender/age norms, so the real villain of the movie is the unnecessary fighting and loss of life. The book has a different objective, which is touched on slightly in the movie - for Sophie to realize her worth.

Which one do I recommend? Both are amazing works. Honestly, I have yet to see a bad Ghibli movie. It's also a Ghibli classic! But reading the book allowed me to connect the missing lines missing from the movie. I also resonated more so with the themes of the book, themes of finding yourself, as I, too am an eldest child. Many people have seen the movie, but haven't read the book I believe. Definitely read and watch both! But perhaps read the book first.

This doesn't really affect my review of the book/movie, but Jones also mentions in her interview in the special edition that her ideal of the castle was that it hovered! Because I did technically see the movie first, I've always pictured it with legs.

So that's it for my first book/movie comparison! What do you think? And what movie/book should I do next? Leave a comment below!


  1. I have been wanting to read this book for a long time and I think you just gave me that final push.

    1. I'm glad! I hope you enjoy it as much as I did :)

  2. Loved the post :) and sometimes I also do the thing in which I imagine things the wrong way. It gets really frustrating when I discover they look otherwise.