Howl’s Moving Castle by Diana Wynne Jones – Folio Society Edition

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While many people will be familiar with the story of Sophie and Wizard Howl thanks to Mayazaki’s anime blockbuster, Howl’s Moving Castle is the fantastical masterpiece of Diana Wynne Jones, celebrated adult and children’s author. I was vaguely familiar with the plotline, however I wasn’t prepared for the beauty of the story and the strong characters that Jones conjured up in these beautiful pages. Add in the exquisite illustrations that the Folio Society edition has, and you have a truly magical tale that will delight readers of all ages.

Illustration © Marie-Alice Harel from The Folio Society edition of Howl’s Moving Castle

Howl’s Moving Castle is mostly set in the quaint town of Market Chipping. With its busybody neighbours, local businesses and sense of community, I could fully place this area in the Essex countryside, where Jones herself spent much of her childhood. However, the addition of the mystical sets this town and the surrounding area apart from just being another quiet abode – indeed, the presence of an ominous ‘moving castle’, inhabited by a man who supposedly devours young girls’ hearts, is enough alone to suggest to the reader that this community has a lot lurking beneath the surface.

It is this mixture of the everyday and magic that initially drew me into this novel. Admittedly, I found Jones’ writing style – fast-paced, almost train of thought like – hard to follow and keep up with initially, so using the addition of spells, strange creatures and town legends really helped as bench-posts in this otherwise brilliant story. Thankfully, you do become accustomed to Jones’ way of developing a story. Yes, things may not always piece together as nicely and neatly as you would have hoped, but that’s the beauty of it too. Not everything needs to be explained, which is what is so wonderful about creating a fantasy and speculative novel like Howl’s Moving Castle. In fact, it’s never fully explained how Howl’s Castle manages to move in the way it does, and the additional spells and magic are dotted in with little explanation – there are wizards and witches, we know that much, but how does one become one? Are you born into it, like Sophie is suggested to have been? The great thing about Jones’ imaginary world is that it doesn’t matter – her strong characters and the twists and turns in the story do enough of the work for us, so we aren’t bogged down with the technicalities of a brand new world, leaving enough room for the story and relationships to develop.



Illustration © Marie-Alice Harel from The Folio Society edition of Howl’s Moving Castle

In terms of the character relationships, I’ve gone back and forth with calling this novel a ‘love story’. While it’s apparent that some kind of ‘soft spot’ exists between Wizard Howl and Sophie, it’s not a romance tale in the traditional sense. In fact, I didn’t really spot the signs until later in the novel, probably far later than a lot of other readers would have done. This is because the character of Sophie is just so strong; her ‘get up and go’ attitude is admirable, especially when faced with terrifying spell that has been placed on her. She is kind, empathetic, but doesn’t let herself be treated for a fool. I applaud Jones for writing a female-centric novel where the ‘relationship’ between the woman and the main male doesn’t overtake the themes of the story. What’s more, Sophie is funny, sassy but not ‘bitter’, and hugely likable. As she comes into her new-found powers and finds her voice as this strong, elderly woman (another rarity in this genre), the reader grows to love her more and more. The story sticks with Sophie continuously, yet it never tires of her. She shocks and delights us at the turn of every page – in many ways, Howl’s story is merely a secondary plotline to Sophie’s remarkable journey of self-discovery.


Illustration © Marie-Alice Harel from The Folio Society edition of Howl’s Moving Castle

Of course, the peculiar character of Howl is an integral part of the book. He’s scatty, daring, seemingly self-oriented and highly intelligent. But just like Sophie, the reader soon learns that there’s much more behind the legends and whispers, and beyond this negative, fearful image that Wizard Howl wishes to establish for himself. This part of the novel has a “Beauty and the Beast” type element to it – it is unarguably Sophie that ‘rescues’ Howl from his outlook on life, yet her time in Howl’s Castle and being surrounded by all the magic, does help to discover her own potential and drive too, all while in the body of a ‘weak’ elderly woman.

There’s a lot of twists in the novel, which keep it exciting and fast-paced, and it’s not hard to see why this story works well as an animated movie too. The imagery is so strong, yet much of the world creation is also left to the imagination of the reader as well. This is especially true of the Castle – I never really understood what it was ‘meant’ to look like, or how exactly the moving of it functions, yet that just added to the story. Granted, the plotline was at times hard to follow, especially in the middle sections when it seems that Jones is experimenting a lot with where her tale can go. However, the magic also allows the story to progress into some weird and wonderful turn of events, which were fun to follow.

Illustration © Marie-Alice Harel from The Folio Society edition of Howl’s Moving Castle

Ultimately, the ending was what really stood out to me. Everything came together so satisfyingly, and many of the revelations were things that I didn’t necessarily see coming. There’s a strong sense of family and community in the final few chapters, yet also the feeling that Howl and Sophie’s story is not yet over. I also really enjoyed that Sophie didn’t turn back into a young woman until the very last moment –crucially, Jones has shown us the true power of an older, female character, and just how domineering and versatile they can be.

The Folio Society edition of Howl’s Moving Castle by Diana Wynne Jones, introduced by Marcus Sedgwick and Illustrated by Marie-Alice Harel, is available exclusively from

Diana Wynne Jones

Diana Wynne Jones had an unsettled childhood against the background of the Second World War. Her family moved frequently, finally settling in rural Essex. She and her two sisters were deprived of books but, armed with a vivid imagination and an insatiable appetite for stories, Jones wrote them herself to read to her sisters. She never ceased writing, and from 1973 onwards published many titles, which have been released worldwide in 30 languages. Her magical adventures have enthralled children and adults ever since. Among Jones’s best-loved books are the Chrestomanci series and Howl’s Moving Castle and its two sequels. In 2004 Howl’s Moving Castle was made into an animated film by Hayao Miyazaki for Studio Ghibli, Japan. It broke all box-office records in Japan at the time and was nominated for an Oscar. Jones’s numerous awards include the Guardian Award for Children’s Fiction, two Mythopoeic Fantasy Awards and a Life Achievement Award at the World Fantasy Convention 2007. Neil Gaiman called her ‘the best writer of Magic there is’.

Marie-Alice Harel

Marie-Alice Harel is a French illustrator based in Edinburgh. She started her career as a Geosciences PhD and researcher before taking up illustration full-time in 2016. Her illustrations, predominantly watercolours, can be found in books, picture books, galleries and magazines. Harel teaches life drawing and illustration at the Edinburgh Drawing School. Previously longlisted in the 2018 Book Illustration Competition, which is run by the House of Illustration and The Folio Society, Harel’s illustrations and binding design for Howl’s Moving Castle won the 2019 competition.

Reviewed by Mariah Feria

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