In the land of Ingary, where such things as seven-league boots and cloaks of invisibility really exist, it is quite a misfortune to be born the eldest of three. Everyone knows you are the one who will fail first, and worst, if the three of you set out to seek your fortunes.
Sophie Hatter was the eldest of three sisters. She was not even the child of a poor woodcutter, which might have given her some chance of success!
Author: Diana Wynne Jones
Synopsis: When shy, pretty Sophie is turned into an old woman by a witch, she goes to seek her fortunes—and winds up taking a night’s rest at the moving castle of Wizard Howl. Before long, she’s bossing around the castle’s fire-demon and cleaning the messy place from top to bottom, much to the chagrin of the sloppy bachelor wizard and his nervous assistant. But Howl never seems to get around to kicking her out. Indeed, he begins to need her assistance in various adventures: finding the king’s brother, killing the witch who put the spell on Sophie, and straightening out his romantic life.
Notes: All right. First, I thought this book was hilarious.
Second, there are some people who will never read it comfortably, thanks to the presence and role of the fire-demon, who turns out to be an affable and not particularly evil creature named Calcifer. His name made me laugh. Even knowing that Ingary is not Earth, though, I could not quite get past the word demon, which as far as I know has no good construction even in myth.
Whatever the limits of one’s imagination, it’s hard not to thoroughly enjoy this book. The story had me at the opening paragraph, which is posted above. Like Sophie Hatter, I am the eldest of three sisters, and the eldest can never cut a break in fairy tales. Every firstborn child in the age of the Grimms must have grown up with a severe complex.
Sophie was a delight of a protagonist. I could sympathize with her early shy days, and the way she talked to her hats. She bore finding herself suddenly sixty years advanced with admirable philosophy, and no one but her ever stood a chance of straightening out Howl.
Howl made me laugh, though he’s not really the sort to make me swoon. I hear swooning is a common response.
Jones’ imagination is as comic and garish in Howl’s Moving Castle as it was in The Dark Lord of Derkholm. I’ve never been a big fan of garish, but at least it isn’t trite, and I do love good comedy.
Recommendation: It should certainly amuse eldest children with a grudge against fairy tales.