Friday, March 13, 2015

MOVIE MADNESS: Howl's Moving Castle

We have another great guest here today, Juli from A Universe in Words!  Read on, and then share your thoughts in the comment section below.


Hello everyone! My name is Juli and I usually write over at A Universe in Words. I am currently in my final year as an English Student and will be moving up to Scotland for a Masters in August! My favourite genres are Fantasy and Classics (does that count as a genre?). I am really excited to write this post for Book Bloggers International on book adaptations.

Before I started writing this post I asked around a bit. Because I study English Lit I'm surrounded by book fanatics every day, each of which has a very strong opinion about everything related to books. (Let's not even get into the paperback/Kindle debate!) I asked them what they thought was important about a book adaptation and out of all the answers two things kept coming back. A film had to stay true to the book, but also add something to it. In itself this struck me as a complete paradox that only book lovers could come up with! But then I thought about one of my own favourite adaptations and I understood what they meant. I am talking about Studio Ghibli's Howl's Moving Castle (2004), based on Diane Wynne Jones' novel of the same name.

I first got to know the novel through the film (shame on me, I know). I had been a fan of Studio Ghibli and its main director, Hayao Miyazaki, ever since watching Spirited Away (2001). I had heard from many people that Howl's Moving Castle was a great film and decided to give it a shot. 119 minutes later I was utterly in love with the story and desperate for more of it. I watched it in Japanese, I watched it in English and I told everyone about it. Maybe you can imagine my shock when someone told me there was a book. Initially I was hesitant to read the book, much in the way that most people are afraid to watch films based on their favourite books. Upon reading Jones’ book I realized Miyazaki changed quite a few aspects of the novel and, surprise surprise, I love all of them.

One of the key changes made by Miyazaki was move the reality of war to the forefront of the film. In the novel the war feels very far away, taking a backseat to Howl's conflict with the Witch of the Waste. Studio Ghibli on the other hand, has always had a very strong anti-war message, starting with the stunning NausicaƤ of the Valley of the Wind in 1984. Although some may argue that such big themes shouldn't be forced upon narratives that can't support it, Miyazaki found a wonderful way to incorporate the threat of war into the story. Our main characters find themselves stuck in a city during a night of bombing and Howl is forced to constantly reconsider his stance against choosing a side. The film doesn't shy away from showing how war changes people, both physically, mentally and magically, and it adds a sense of realism to the whole. Because of this added intensity the film will surprise even the most seasoned Wynne Jones-readers.

Now, you may wonder how Miyazaki would be able to preserve the essence of Jones' novel if he changes such a major part of the story. What is very clever about the film adaptation of Howl's Moving Castle is that it never forgets about its main characters. No matter what happens outside, Miyazaki always looks to the inside and there he finds Sophie, Jones' amazing main character. It is not often that a teenager-turned-eighty-year old successfully becomes the main character of a children's novel. Her self-discovery is crucial to the charm and magic of the novel and the film never once forgets that. Rather than shifting the attention to include more magic or explore Howl's past more, the film follows Sophie through everything and, as the emotional core of the movie, never abandons her. Because of this the film has a lot of heart, something that was crucial to Jones' novel. Not perfectly following every page of the novel to a T is no problem, as long as a director knows and loves the story he is adapting.


  1. What a wonderful post! I love Howl's Moving Castle, both the book and film, and I love your analysis of the differences between the two.

  2. Howl's Moving Castle is one of my all-time favorite books! I finally got to watch the movie this last year and adored it!

    Random thought ... I checked my library yesterday for a copy of Howl's to re-read it and *GASP* they did not have a copy! I have to go back this week to request it (because I was in a hurry and forgot to before I left).

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