We’ve been a little witch heavy this month to be sure, but here is your remedy. One powerful, vain, girl-crazy wizard plus his incredible moving castle. I seriously love this book. I love Calcifer the fire demon, I love poor beleaguered Michael, I love oblivious long-suffering Sophie. How can you not love a book where in a fit of the heroine substitutes cayenne pepper for a magic powder because she doesn’t know what spell to give a customer?
Diana Wynne Jones really doesn’t cheat you in the magic department either. There are all kinds of spells and bewitchments, from being able to make yourself look like someone else, to hats that can change your destiny. For me part of the fun of a witch or wizard book is the magic, and you will not be disappointed here!
Although the content is fairly clean on this one, there’s no doubt that it requires a high level of comprehension. There are an epic number of characters: good witches, a bad witch, at least two wizards, assorted royals, a walking scarecrow, a man-dog, extended families, mayors wives, counts and, as mentioned before, fire demons. Of course, this is all further confused by multiple people being in disguise, others having a variety of aliases, still others actually being more than one person. I’ve read it twice and even I was starting to wish I had a list, or better yet, a chart with pictures. There’s also a lot to keep straight, what with missing persons, animate objects, and spells both consciously and unconsciously placed. There’s also an additional challenge for US readers, as some UK English terms may push their limits like hedgerow. Or perhaps repeated use of queer to mean either strange or faint. Vocabulary over all is challenging, including: rheumatism, ominous, prophesied, abject, decrepit, besom and peculiarities. Despite the book’s complexity, the tone is light throughout. Although everyone is in danger from the Wicked Witch of the Waste and her fire demon, there’s no feeling of impending darkness and doom.
Great for: Lovers of magic and adventure. You could probably recommend this to Harry Potter fans, Wizard of Oz admirers and even fans of Ella Enchanted. I think that this also has wide appeal across age groups. As long as the comprehension is there, I wouldn’t have any problem reading it with middle grades children, but it has enough going on that it will keep adults entertained as well!
Sex, Nudity, Dating –Howl has this thing where he makes girls fall in love with him and then he isn’t interested anymore. There is much talk of matches, matchmaking, proposals and sweethearts. Also, Martha says she needs to get married young if she’s to fit in having 10 children. Despite all this, there’s nothing in it to make the younger children (or boys) say “ew” and nothing really to worry parents. The only thing that may give you pause is a boyfriend is once referred to as a lover, although it’s pretty clear they don’t mean it that way.
Profanity – “Damnation,” and “Hell’s teeth.” There are also three places where the book tells us people swore, but does not tell us what the swears were. Also a few characters say “Curses!”
Death, Violence and Gore – Various people have various deceased relatives. Two witches die (one is murdered, one deserved it). The wizard Howl has a reputation of collecting young girls and sucking their souls and possibly even eating their hearts. Sophie spends considerable time looking for evidence of eaten hearts or former girls. There is a skull who is mentioned quite often. The wizard has various powders in his bathroom labeled as body parts, but it’s unclear if they are made from those parts or for use on those parts. A falling star dies. There are a few mentions of hanging. A boy wants a spell for a duel. People plan on destroying the Witch of Waste. There is a big showdown at the end that involves death to a few (don’t worry, nothing to cause tears) and sort of re-distribution of remaining characters. When being highly melodramatic about a cold Howl claims he shall die from it, and that he shall disguise himself as a corpse. The man-dog did bite someone. There is a possibility of war. There are some missing / possibly dead characters. There are some bones after people die.
Drugs, Alcohol and Smoking – Some young men swagger “beerily” about. Howl asks Sophie to get the brandy “unless she’s drunk it” and drinks a glass himself, and gives one to Calcifer. Then he pours himself another and starts sipping that. Calcifer accuses Howl of being drunk after a rugby reunion. Sophie offers Miss Angorian a glass of wine.
Frightening or Intense Things – People are afraid of Howl. Everyone is afraid of the Witch of the Waste. There are various showdowns between Howl and others and the Witch of the Waste. None of it has a very scary feel. Exciting? yes. But there are no dark undertones.