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Howl’s Moving Castle Fall Readalong

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I’ve begun rereading Howl’s Moving Castle.
As I was reading, I kept wondering about those in the readalong who’ve never read it before. What does it feel like to them, I thought, what is it like to be reading this for the first time in 2018 and probably not at 9 or 10 or 11 as I was? What does this look like to you if you have seen the movie first, if you’ve never been to the UK, if you’re reading this through the lens of an American countryside or an anime sensibility?
I didn’t own a copy of this book for twenty years. I read it as I read nearly all of Diana Wynne Jones’ books, from libraries all over the country as my parents moved, and moved, and moved again. The first thing my mother did every time we moved was get us a library card, and so I grew into a child who regarded a house as a place you stayed, a library — any library — as home. I’ve improved a little but I still find my feet itch to take me away and libraries pull me up short.
I read all of her books in a very short time, which maybe did them a disservice. She talked in Reflections On the Magic of Writing about recycling humans in her life multiple times for characters, and you can feel it when you read all her works back to back. But it also meant that for a year of my life, all I did was see the world through her eyes. You readers know how it is. The books get into you. You dream them, you see them cover open or closed.
I’m not sure if readers can see that in my novels, but it feels like the reader pedigree’s got to show through somewhere. Probably more in my early books, before I became so disastrously and wondrously and completely Stiefvatery.
Anyway, so now I open Howl’s Moving Castle again for the countless time, as a (checks Wikipedia page) 36 year old.
This time I notice the dedication, where she thanks a school boy who asked her to write about a a moving castle. Only recently I was reading some mythology that involved a Caer Sidi, a moving castle: and I wondered if she or the boy had read about it.
And then I head into Chapter One: In Which Sophie Talks to Hats.
First thought: if you had paid me a million dollars to remember Sophie’s last name, I wouldn’t have come even close, and I see now that it’s her profession.
Second thought, and maybe one for #howlsforwriters — man, a lot happens in this chapter. I read the first two, so 46 scant pages, and we clip quite rapidly through events. In the first chapter, we get this broad brush overview of how Sophie’s family has come to be shaped this way, and we also get told who these people are and why they do what they do. According to Sophie. Faultless Fanny, the stepmother, pretty and strong-minded Lettie, gentle and destined for greatness Martha.
Third thought: A thing I appreciate more reading this as an adult is how it sets up what’s going to be a central character arc for the book: how do you become? Do you become what people tell you that you are? Do you become what you think that you are? Sophie has been told she’s the eldest and so will not amount to anything exciting, so she learns to make do with circumstances (which will be relevant later). But it also means that by page 22, Sophie has already become a shy hatmakers’ apprentice who cannot function in the world and believes this is just the way of it. When her sister (SURPRISE! NOT THE SISTER WE THOUGHT) tells her that she has it all wrong, Sophie gets to do one of my favorite things as a writer and reader: revisit her memories and see how they change or not based upon new information about a person.
Fourth thought: I realized in this reading how much I am asked to fill in myself as far as what Market Chipping looks like. I assume now that Jones is sketching a small British town, but at the time I first read it, I hadn’t seen any of those — I’d seen high fantasy versions in animated Disney flicks and Princess Bride and other Not Quite Historical Things. So that Market Chipping remains in my head now and I had to consciously try to see what Jones wanted me to see instead. And I think what Jones wanted me to see was actually this: hats. They’re all described quite lovingly, but in what I think is a pretty classic Jones way.
The emotional truth of them is described, pretending to be framed as a physical truth. I think if asked if we knew what these hats looked like, we’d say yes, but if we were asked to draw these hats, we’d all draw different versions.
Fifth thought: Look how many villains we have introduced, look how terrifying they have been painted. Everything gets turned around from first impressions by the end, and it’s satisfying to watch the set up.
Sixth thought: I like Sophie. Do you guys like Sophie? I’m on her side even though on paper she seems to embody a type that is very unsatisfying in fiction — passive, events moving her. I find despite that she’s very relatable. What do you guys think? This is probably also yet another one for #howlsforwriters.
To join the discussion for the rest of the book, come find the readalong on Slack.
Maggie Stiefvater
Hi, I'm Maggie Stiefvater

Professional novelist by day and artist by night. I live an eccentric life in the middle of nowhere, Virginia with my charmingly straight-laced husband, two kids, and neurotic dogs. I’m the author of the Books of Faerie (LAMENT and BALLAD); the bestselling SHIVER trilogy (SHIVER, LINGER, FOREVER), and THE SCORPIO RACES.

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