“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.”
Really though, how can you go wrong with a beginning like this?
I love this book. Really. It takes the classic, standard fairytale to new heights, adding twists and turns of its own, and gives a cheeky nod to all the stereotypes in regular fairytales. Magic is an integral part of this story, with witches and wizards at every turn, but rather than the classic ‘witch on a broomstick’ formula, it takes another style. Magic is commonplace. Witches take apprentices and raise bees to use the honey in their spells. Wizards use magic to design clothes and dye their hair. It’s common, it’s everyday, and it’s a refreshing and charming change from stories where the magic is overemphasized and overcomplicated.
I first read this book when I was traveling in Siem Reap, Cambodia. We were living right smack in the middle of the Red Light district, spending our time working with women who had escaped prostitution and playing with kids in places so poverty-stricken that I can still see them in vivid detail when I think of it.
I needed an escape.
I needed something simple and sweet, something with a happy ending and a world that didn’t make my stomach turn.
Howl’s Moving Castle fit that description to the letter. One of my friends handed it off to me, and since I was desperate, I tried it.
Then I read it again, after we’d flown back to Scotland.
When I finally got home again, after six months of traveling, I bought it. I had to have it with me. It was one of those books that you meet by chance and fall head-over-heels in love with. The simplicity, the gorgeous settings, beautiful descriptions, charming day-to-day details, and the brilliant (sometimes hilarious) characters stole my heart. When I have a bad day, this is the book I reach for.
It begins with Sophie. She is, most unfortunately, the eldest of three daughters. Since that inevitably means that she will have no luck whatsoever, and nothing interesting will ever happen to her, she settles herself quite comfortably as an apprentice in a hat shop. Her life is dull, but happy, and she expects to spend the rest of her days there, trimming hats and, oddly enough, talking to them.
But life has a way of catching us off-guard, and Sophie finds that out only too soon.
A disagreement with a powerful (and evil) witch leaves Sophie tottering about, leaning on a stick, stuck as an old lady before her time. With nothing else to do, she sets off to seek her fortune and finds it in the shape of an (apparently) evil wizard who eats hearts, a clumsy wizard’s apprentice, a fire demon, and a castle that has no desire to stay in one spot when there are so many beautiful places to see.
Along the way stars fall, seven-league boots are used, magic is attempted (and sometimes bungled), gardens are grown, flower shops are bought, princes are found, and someone falls in love. (Though I won’t say who.)
All in all, it—and its sequels—are a must read for anyone who still enjoys fairytales or just needs a deep breath from all the drama in the world. I hope you enjoy it as much as I did!