The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe was the first book that ever made me cry, and I still get emotional when I reread it. The Phantom Tollbooth remains one of the funniest, cleverest books I’ve ever read, though I didn’t read it until I was in my twenties. A Wrinkle in Time changed my view of the world and helped me embrace myself for who I was and still am. The Little Prince gave me a lot of deep, philosophical fodder for discussion with my family. And Harry Potter remains my favorite series, and shall forever be. Always.
Now I have a new book to add to my long list of middle grade favorites. Howl’s Moving Castle has been one of my top five favorite movies for years, and I put off reading the book out of fear that it wouldn’t hold up. Thankfully, my friend Mary suggested buddy reading it, or I might have missed out on the absolute treasure that is Diana Wynne Jones. Now I have to track down everything else she ever wrote. I should have listened to Neil Gaiman sooner, as he loves her and has recommended her multiple times in essays and articles.
Sophie Hatter is the oldest of three sisters, which means that she’s not going to amount to much. Striving to be content with her lot in life, Sophie encourages her sisters to find their fortunes and sets out to be the best hatter she can be. But when her hats become too popular, the Witch of the Waste barges into her store and turns poor Sophie’s life completely upside down. But, by the end of the story, Sophie wouldn’t have traded her altered life for anything.
The characters in this tiny book are so well developed that they now feel like old friends. Calcifer is the cutest demon in the history of ever, and I couldn’t help but hear Billy Crystal’s voice whenever he spoke. He was grouchy and sarcastic and a much bigger softie than he let on. Michael, the Wizard Howl’s assistant, is a scattered sweetheart. Howl himself is vain and lazy and self-absorbed and more honorable than he wants to be. He is also one of the biggest drama queens I’ve ever come across in any fictional setting. And then there’s Sophie. Sophie, who was dealt a bad hand and managed to win the game anyway. It wasn’t until she was cursed that Sophie grew into the person she always wanted to be, and proved herself to be invaluable to everyone in her life.
I just want to say, middle grade books do a much better job with love stories than YA books, in my opinion. The love story here was a slow burn, and both involved parties fought their feelings tooth and nail. But when those feelings were finally admitted and embraced, I melted. Seriously, the feels are real. I will go down with this ship.
The book and movie differed on multiple plot points, which surprised me. However, I now love the book just as much as I love the Miyazaki movie. If you love the book and have never seen the movie, I highly recommend it. If you love the movie, you should read the book. You’ll be in for a treat if you do.