Analyzing Howl’s Moving Castle (And Why I Liked the Book Better than the Movie)

Next in my series of analyzing my favorite media is Howl’s Moving Castle. I saw the movie before I read the book, mostly because I watch all of Hayao Miyazaki’s films. I loved the movie and so I went out to buy the book. I also loved the book.

Over time, when I would pull the movie out to watch, I found myself instead watching a few minutes of the movie and then going and getting the book to read instead. Howl’s Moving Castle is only 329 pages, so it’s a quick read.

Reasons I Like the Book

1) Character:
I love Sophie and Howl’s relationship and how it develops so naturally between them as they snipe back and forth. Especially! the tiny bits of care Howl displays between his irresponsibility and arrogance that gradually grow more frequent. In fact, I love this so much about the book, that it’s the biggest the reason I don’t watch the movie anymore, because it is practically non-existent there.

Howl said. “I think we ought to live happily ever after,” and she thought he meant it. Sophie knew that living happily ever after with Howl would be a good deal more eventful than any story made it sound, though she was determined to try. “It should be hair raising,” added Howl.
“And you’ll exploit me,” Sophie said.
“And then you’ll cut up all my suits to teach me,” Howl said.

2) Voice/Plot:
Both of these have to do with the book being well written. The narrator is so delightfully playful and the dialogue is witty and appropriate.

“Go to bed, you fool,” Calcifer said sleepily. “You’re drunk.”
“Who, me?” said Howl. “I assure you, my friends, I am cone sold stober.” 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. “What a lie that was.” Howl remarked as he walked into the wall. “My shining dishonesty will be the salvation of me.” He walked into the wall several times more, in several different places, before he discovered his bedroom door and crashed his way through it. Sophie could hear him falling about, saying his bed was dodging.

I also appreciate how well the plot is explained to Sophie in the end. Howl does a lot behind her pov and the Witch of the Waste’s plot is rather complicated, but at the same time I never remember feeling confused about what was happening and why.

Reasons I liked the Movie

1) Bishounen:
Bishounen is a Japanese word that literally means ‘pretty boy’. I grew up watching a lot of anime and this is a trope that is quite prevalent in anime. I love men who are classified as pretty over handsome. Howl is a bishounen.

2) Sense of Wonder:
Hayao Miyazaki knows how to add wonder to his movies by just showing the beauty of nature. It’s probably why I like most of his movies.

Why I Like the Book Over the Movie

1) The movie plays Howl up as noble, with his ‘saving’ Sophie from the soldiers at the beginning and his rampant disapproval of the war. This overshadows his being an irresponsible, arrogant womanizer. I can see why I liked the movie so much at first, because who doesn’t love a beautiful, noble character? Then I fell in love with the flawed Howl. I read the book to watch Howl become a better person through his interaction with Sophie.

2) Sophie does not have any magic. At least not that’s obvious. The one bit of ‘overt’ magic that she does do, in returning Howl’s heart, is in no way foreshadowed, so it’s easy to say Sophie can do it because she loves Howl. I suppose this is rather petty, but I feel like the magic was so naturally a part of who Sophie was that its absence gives her a different feel.

3) The whole war, which was there to create conflict instead of the Witch of the Waste …perhaps because her plot was too complicated? In the end the war didn’t mean anything except there were bombs dropped during the climax. (That and it reveals that Suliman was apparently covertly creepy/evil what with her mini-Howls and the implication that the war was just an excuse for her to gather and strip the powers of witches and wizards.)

4) The Witch of the Waste being horribly ineffective. She curses Sophie, admits she can’t undo the curse, can hardly walk up stairs, gets her magic taken away, and then turns into a senile invalid.

Now I’m sure a lot of parts of the movie suffered because, well, it was a movie and not a book. Books just have more time for detail and character arcs. What I can’t forgive is just how different the Howl from the book felt than the Howl from the movie. I could have been fine with the war subplot if Howl could have just been himself. But since one of the things I enjoy the most in my media are the characters and their relationships, I’ll just continue reading the book and using the movie for character designs.

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