It’s hard to be the firstborn child. Everyone expects you to be more mature. The younger siblings want to tag along with you everywhere. And you’re usually expected to take over whatever family business or trade there might be. Such is the destiny of poor Sophie Hatter in Diana Wynne Jones’ book Howl’s Moving Castle.
She’s a fairly smart girl. She’s read enough stories to know that her sisters have a much more interesting destiny than she does. But there’s no point fighting against fate, and she’s fairly well happy working in her mother’s hat shop. She’s pretty good at it, too. She chats with the hats as she makes them, telling them all about the kind of person that might buy them.
Destiny has other plans for her, though. The Witch of the Waste has heard about the Hatter sisters, and there’s a rumor that the Wizard Howl might have his eye set on one of them. This doesn’t set well at all with her, and she decides to make sure that doesn’t happen. Because of a case of mistaken identity, however, The Witch of the Waste targets Sophie instead, turning her into a crone. In addition, she’s not able to tell anyone
Ever the good daughter, she doesn’t want to worry her family. She heads to Howl’s Moving Castle, to speak to the wizard, and see if she could get turned back.
Along the way, we meet characters such as Howl’s fire demon Calcifer and his apprentice Michael, find out why Howl has such a bad reputation, and even see the start of a romance. It’s a great adventure that targets the bookish, responsible girls in the family. This is, of course, just the type who seeks out British children’s fantasy novels in the first place.
Diana Wynne Jones is known as a master of her field. Even with the prevalence of great fantasy stories to tell in Japan, Miyazaki has adapted two of Jones’ books into movies. So go check out Howl’s Moving Castle, but make sure to pick up another of her books, because once you put down the first, you’ll want to start in on the next.
Highs: Great magical fantasy story, with interesting characters
Lows: Just a little short, and it wraps up VERY quickly, though it’s still satisfying
Verdict: A great starter fantasy book for younger kids
Further Reading: Castle in the Sky, Little (Grrl) Lost