It is an oft-repeated piece of ‘wisdom’ that “the book is always better than the film”. Obviously, this is a crock of shite.
I think most of us bookworms have gone through a small-minded phase of sneering at movie goers who didn’t read the original novels, in the same way fifteen year old Maddy thought I Wasn’t Like The Other Girls because I didn’t like One Direction.*
*Zayn was always fit though
Yes, we all suffered from gibbering trauma after watching our childhoods be vomited over by the steaming dungpiles of the Percy Jackson, Eragon and Seventh Son movies.
I personally will never recover from the Secret of Moonacre, which destroyed my all time favourite childhood novel.
Well executed films are perfectly capable of being superior to their source material. And they do it, like, all the time. Take, for example, the smart, slick, and self aware Fifty Shades of Grey film. And, I would strongly argue, Mary Poppins…
…the Hunger Games…
…and even The Lord of the Rings.
Add to this list, please, Howl’s Moving Castle.
Now is probably not the time or the place for me to rave on about how incomparably magical, heart wrenching, and utterly transporting the Studio Ghibli adaptation of this book is, but I’m going to do it anway. Imo, Howl’s Moving Castle should have won Hayao Miyazaki another Oscar, because it’s even better than the wonderful Spirited Away.
This book, whilst sharing the whimsical, magical feel of the film, is shockingly messy. Sophie is a bystander to the plot and displays zero initiative towards getting involved with events, which explains why as a reader, most of the time you have no idea what the flying frickeroo is going on. Howl bursts in and out of the castle on incomprehensible errands, whilst Sophie does twenty seven chapter’s worth of cleaning and cooking and leaves the castle only about three times in the entire novel.
Wynne Jones doesn’t help things either, by making the story difficult to glean even if you’re paying close attention. Cleaning, cleaning, sewing, cleaning, oh bugger the witch is attacking! Why? Who cares, because we’re back to cleaning, cleaning, cleaning. Oh wait now we’re just going to have a chapter long detail to visit Howl’s sister in late 1980s Wales. Why? Uh well there’s something about a spell, which may be important and may have got lost in Wales by accident. How did it get there? Who knows! Why is it important? Who cares! What does the spell actually mean? Ha, we’re not going to explain that. Because now we’re back to cleaning and sewing again. But wait, now Sophie is going to run a flower shop for an extra 20 pages because maybe cleaning is getting a bit repetitive. And so on.
Random crap happens all the time with zero explanation. Take for example the enchanted hopping scarecrow thing, which in the movie is not only a comical asset to the cast, but is used as a device to help Sophie begin to embrace her magical potential and overcome her fears. In the book, the stick literally has no purpose to the plot, except to break the narrative monotony of Sophie’s constant cleaning by turning up and scaring the shite out of her. Additionally, in the book, a man who was turned into a dog turns up half way through, then spends the rest of the book trying to tell Sophie something important. Does she work to figure out what he’s saying, or to try and break his curse? Lol, of course not, because that would be effort. And so the dog just becomes yet another random object that hangs around, potential use to the plot entirely wasted.
Another entirely pointless occurrence is the fact that Sophie spends around half the book sewing Howl a suit of clothes, which despite some early magical potential turn out once again to be irrelevant to everything. Oh, and Howl entirely ignores this massive and exhausting feat of labour, except when he’s yelling at Sophie for not sewing prettily enough.
Speaking of Sophie’s role as Howl’s housekeeper: it was really enraging to me that a female SFF icon like Wynne-Jones would fall into the centuries old fairy-tale trope of writing a female character who does nothing except clean up the hero’s messes — and I mean literally clean up, because Sophie actually become’s Howl’s housekeeper — until she is eventually ‘rewarded’ with his Lurv as a prize for all her selfless, wifely loyalty. This is some ancient sexist bullshit and it drives me up the absolute freaking chimney.
Good Girls, stay quiet, meek and work hard, then the Dream Boy will randomly realise You were the Pretty One All Along!! Meanwhile: Proud Girls, you’re ungrateful bitches for saying no to a man, and you’re going to be Taken Down A Peg until you accept the ‘Nice Guy’!!
In the film, Sophie becomes instrumental in not only saving Howl’s life, but in defeating the Witch of the Waste. She comes into her own powers, and grows in confidence, emerging as a brave, principled heroine — and a seriously badarse old lady — who is far removed from the meek, resigned girl introduced at the beginning of the movie. In fact, the entire point of the film’s plot is that becoming an old woman actually frees Sophie from all her inhibitions and insecurities regarding Ladylike Behaviour and Being The Inferior Sister, and that Howl falls in love with her for the awesome person she is, wrinkles, walking stick and all. She takes the initiative to get involved, to break Howl’s curse, and to save the day.
Book Sophie shies away from doing even the most basic shit on behalf of the plot (such as going to talk to the King), and has no interest in finding out what the heck is going on around her. By the middle of the movie, Sophie and Howl are working together to help stop the witch, clearly firm friends. In the book, they never really team up, and there’s no suggestion that they even like eachother. Unlike Movie Sophie, who isn’t afraid to call the spoilt Howl out on his BS, Book Sophie simply sucks it up. Like a good little loyal heroine, she hangs around the kitchen waiting to be noticed, silently moping over Book Howl’s endless, boring philandering of approximately seven different women up to a decade below his age, including her younger sister. Please excuse me while I vomit. And of course, Sophie is apparently in love with him despite the fact that he constantly treats her like crap, and that she’s constantly telling herself how much she can’t stand him, showing no signs of soft feelings whatsoever. Because apparently, if a women’s sick to death of you, it means they actually love you. Oh sorry, I just vomited again.
As a result of his ridiculous and ungrateful behaviour, in comparison to Movie Howl, Book Howl is basically a dick. Yes, Howl is a tragic, Bad Boy hero in the film, who needs to be rescued by the Innocent Heroine to realise he should change his whiny ways and stick with a single girl. Yet in the movie, his constant distraction is caused not only by his curse, and his fear of the Witch, but the King’s attempts to use him as a mercenary in a horrific semi-industrial war. He’s actually a conscientious objector, and wastes time with women (significantly fewer than in the book, it has to be said) to try and avoid getting called up. In the book, there is no war, and his distraction is caused mostly by the fact that he’s a total waster. Despite supposedly being the second most powerful wizard in the country, does he spend any time helping people? No. Instead, he does absolutely everything he can to run away from the Witch (and the plot), although the King is desperate for help, and the Witch is only attacking the royal family because of Howl in the first place.
Book Howl is also pretty sexist over and above his womanising. Book and Movie Howl arguably share a general ignorance towards Sophie’s unpaid physical and emotional wife work. However, whereas Movie Howl is generally respectful and kind to housekeeper, Book Howl is demanding, ungrateful, faults her efforts, and generally treats Sophie as his inferior. Whilst the film begins with an eye-rolly scene during which Howl meets Sophie by chivalrously saving her from some rapey men, he is at least doing the right thing. In contrast, when Book Howl meets Sophie for the first time, he laughs at her for being a ‘meek little mouse’, which causes her to run away in shame. But that’s fine, because cruelty is how male strangers show they like you, right? Whereas movie Howl scared and deeply flawed, he’s also kind, ultimately heroic and I really rooted for the romance. By contrast, at the end of the book, guess what – Howl was only a dick with women because he didn’t have a heart (literally)! Lmao!!
Or was that really the reason? It’s never fully made clear. As far as I’m concerned, not having a heart should actually make you cold and evil, not just a general low-level prat. Forgive me for thinking that if a character behaves like a douchebag, it is probably just a sign that they are, in fact, a common-or-garden douchebag. Howl’s single redeeming quality is his attempt in the last chapter to save Sophie’s life (even though she is only in danger because she was trying to save his life). Since this is obviously Proof of his Undying Lurv (which somehow I failed to notice earlier when he was shouting at her for not sewing well enough), the couple immediately get married.
Overall, this book was massively disappointing to me. Because all the characters and ideas which made the movie so enchanting did originally come from Wynne Jones’ imagination, I can’t rate it too badly. But still, I can’t be dealing with books which don’t engage properly with their own plots, and I have to knock off at least one star for how appallingly the romance is handled.
What did you guys think about the differences between the two versions? Do you think I’m talking total baloney? I would love to hear from you in the comments!