Howl’s Moving Castle: A Work on the Edge of Literary Traditions

Everyone has his or her own idea of literature and what separates a work of literary fiction from a work of popular fiction. Generally speaking, a work must adhere to literary traditions, convey a deeper meaning, and present conventional themes in order to be recognized as a work of literary fiction. To be recognized as young adult literary fiction, a work must meet all of the previous requirements, and it must be appropriate in style and subject matter for the intended audience, provide the audience with a valuable moral lesson, and focus on some sort of theme revolving around coming-of-age or self-realization. However, a work can meet all of the previous requirements and still lack the necessary cohesion, harmony, and conciseness required to meet the literary fiction standards. A work of literature intertwines various aspects of a novel that may seem unrelated on the surface in the interest of attaining a certain level of stylistic and technical aptitude. While a work of popular fiction is merely a source of entertainment that gratifies the masses with no significant end result, a work of literary fiction is a piece of unified art with a purpose. Diana Wynne Jones’s young adult novel Howl’s Moving Castle is a work of fantasy which meets all of the requirements that are necessary to be considered a work of literature.

Howl’s Moving Castle begins in “the land of Ingary, where such things as seven-league boots and cloaks of invisibility really exist” (Jones 1). The protagonist of the novel, Sophie Hatter, is the eldest of three sisters, and this is considered to be “quite a misfortune” in Ingary (Jones 1). Both of Sophie’s biological parents died before the story takes place, and she is left in the care of her step-mother, Fanny Hatter. Being the eldest of the three sisters, Sophie is destined to inherit the family hat business while her sisters go on to fulfill their dreams. Sophie grows tired of living like an old maid working at the hat shop, but she continues to do so because she feels as though it is her destiny. Meanwhile, magical warfare is on the horizon in Ingary. Howl, a wizard with a reputation for stealing the hearts and souls of beautiful young women, roams around the areas surrounding Ingary in his enchanted castle, and the Witch of the Waste, a powerful and dangerous witch who has been banished to the Waste, a dismal land outside of Ingary, is on the prowl. One day, the Witch of the Waste visits the Hatter’s hat shop, and by mistake, she turns Sophie into an old woman using a curse. Sophie, in hopes of finding a way to break the curse, sets out to go visit Wizard Howl. Upon entering Howl’s moving castle, Sophie meets Calcifer, a fire demon, and Michael, a young apprentice. Calcifer recognizes that Sophie has been cursed, and he makes a deal with Sophie. If she can break the mysterious contract between Calcifer and Howl that keeps Calcifer bound to the castle’s hearth, he will undo the Witch of the Waste’s curse. Jones takes fantastical concepts and blends them with traditional aspects of young adult literature in a manner that creates a stunning work of literary art.

Seda Yavaş, author of the scholarly article “Diana Wynne Jones’s Howl’s Moving Castle (1986) Or The Story Of A New Mythology,” notes, “The very title of the novel could be interpreted as a warning for the readers that this is not going to be a typical fairy tale although all the necessary elements are present throughout the text, but in a completely different order in utterly different associations and combinations” (31). Jones explores traditional young adult themes of self-definition and coming of age while placing the readers of the novel in unconventional yet fully developed settings and situations. Charles Butler, author of the book Four British Fantasists: Place and Culture in the Children’s Fantasies of Penelope Lively, Alan Garner, Diana Wynne Jones, and Susan Cooper, recognizes: In recent years, Jones’s critical fortunes have risen sharply, in part because her exploitation of such “post-modern” devices as multiple or fragmented subjectivities, alternate realities, self-altering narratives, intertextuality, and generic hybridity have made her a more fashionable writer in the theory-conscious academy of the 1990s and beyond. (6) Jones takes common motifs and simplistic themes that are used in young adult literature, and she weaves aspects of high fantasy within them so that she may highlight or dramatize the actions taking place or lessons being taught in the novel. Jones did not create a work of popular fiction with a flashy storyline and alternative realities just for the entertainment value of it. She did not create a work of young adult literature which relies solely on fairytale clichés to teach a lesson. Instead, Jones explores elements of fantasy to accentuate and complicate the young adult story of Howl’s Moving Castle in a style that is befitting of a work of literary fiction.

One of Jones’s most notable adherences to the young adult literary tradition is seen in the absence of Sophie’s parents. Absent parents are quite common in young adult literature. Removing the parental figures from a novel allows the author to throw the protagonists into worlds of their own. The absence of parents in young adult literature is a technique employed by authors so that the focus of the novel is shifted toward the youth’s own ideals, choices, and actions. It is the literary equivalent of a mother bird pushing her fledglings out of the nest and forcing them to live their own lives. The absence of parental figures moves the plot forward by forcing protagonists to act on their own accord. Jones utilizes the absence of parents in Howl’s Moving Castle so that she may set up Sophie’s character’s growth. Another way in which Jones follows the young adult literary tradition is setting boundaries for Sophie to break during her character’s growth. Because Sophie is the eldest of the three sisters in Ingary, she is destined to lead an uneventful life. Her sisters could marry, learn magic, and be successful, but Sophie knows that she will have to live the life of an old woman in her hat shop. A common motif in young adult literature is breaking the rules or conditions of the setting, so Jones includes the limitations of Sophie’s identity in order to highlight Sophie’s character development and self-definition.

In addition to having no real parental figures and struggling with self-definition, Jones employs another common young adult literature in through Sophie’s attitude. Sophie is extremely unhappy in her position at the beginning of the novel. She feels as though her endless work in the hat shop is being taken advantage of by her step-mother, and she feels trapped in her reality. When she is cursed by the Witch of the Waste, she is able to seek another reality and escape her own. Escaping reality is a common theme in both young adult literature and fantasy literature, and Jones brings attention to and raises questions about this theme as the novel progresses. In addition to blending aspects of the young adult literary tradition with the fantasy tradition, Jones utilizes several literary devices which complement the literary quality of the work. An example of this can be seen in the self-fulfilling prophecy of Sophie’s age. When Sophie is despairing over her identity at the beginning of the novel, she feels as though “the past months of sitting and sewing had turned her into an old woman” (Jones 17). Shortly after this moment, the Witch of the Waste curses Sophie and turns her into an old woman, and this fulfills the prophecy. The Witch of the Waste turned Sophie’s fears of aging in a hat shop into her reality.

Age is a prominent subject in young adult literature, but Jones delves into the concept of age in a completely fantastical way. Deborah Kaplan, author of the article “Disrupted Expectations: Young/Old Protagonists in Diana Wynne Jones Novels,” notes the importance of age in the young adult literary tradition: “Questions of age confusion are particularly notable in works for young readers, for whom age is considered a pressing concern” (197). In addition to serving as a self-fulfilling prophecy, Sophie’s age serves as an important turning point in her character development. As a young woman, Sophie was uncomfortable with her identity. As an old woman, Sophie becomes more open and comfortable. Because she does not feel confined by her identity as the eldest of three sisters as old woman, she is able to overcome her ill-fated destiny. Sophie’s old age allows her to become more comfortable with her identity and understand the trivial nature of the boundaries that she once perceived as determining her destiny. What was supposed to be a curse proves to be a useful tool for character development.

Another literary device employed by Jones is the use of allusions in Howl’s Moving Castle. Jones uses many allusions in her work, but she uses them in a slightly unconventional manner. Based on the idea that Ingary is a reality in which magic exists, Jones is able to mold literary allusions to fit her fantastical world. Among the allusions are references to Arthurian legend, The Wonderful Wizard of Oz, J.R.R. Tolkien’s Elven city of Rivendell, and Hamlet. Clearly, Jones understands the importance of calling upon works of classical literature for the sake of furthering her own literary quality. One of the most striking allusions employed by Jones is the curse that was used on Howl by the Witch of the Waste. The curse is an allusion to the John Donne poem “Song: Go and Catch a Falling Star.” In Ingary, John Donne’s writing takes on a magical meaning that diverges from reality. The poem operates as a curse, and it is able to do so successfully because of the fantastical alternate reality which removes the poem’s original or true meaning. In Ingary, magic is normal, so normal is foreign. If magic is real in Ingary, then poems can certainly be curses. Jones takes advantage of the opportunity to blend reality with fantasy in a way that helps the story generate its own form of believability. Because of the fantastical structure of her novel, she is able to generate a suspension of disbelief for her audience in what Farah Mendlesohn, author of Diana Wynne Jones: The Fantastic Tradition and Children’s Literature, labels “a fully immersed fantasy” (88). Jones allows her readers to become fully immersed in the land of Ingary from the beginning of the novel. Sophie is never shocked by the magic that she witnesses in the world, and this further cements the believability of the novel. This suspension of belief that is generated by the wholeness of the fantasy reality allows Jones to employ allusions in a way that differs from standard use. Jones is able to separate the world of the novel with the real world through her magical twists on literary allusions. The plausibility or believability of the young adult themes explored in the novel is made possible by the setting. Because Jones asserts from the beginning of the work that magical is the norm in Ingary, she is able to convincingly explore common young adult themes in a groundbreaking and otherworldly manner.

Pauline Dewan, author of The Art of Place in Literature for Children and Young Adults: How Locale Shapes a Story, notes the importance of setting in other fairytales and fantasy works: Fairy tales are a particularly concrete, visual, and cinematic form of writing, a genre in which place is all-important. In fact, the concept of place is the focal point of Tolkien’s definition of the fairy tale: “Fairy-stories are not in normal English usage stories about fairies or elves, but stories about Fairy, that is Faerie, the realm or state in which fairies have their being.” (2) The world that Jones creates in Howl’s Moving Castle is what allows her to openly explore the young adult literary tradition without limitation. By creating a fantasy world, Jones is able to take readers into an unknown universe where they have no choice but to rely on the characters and their actions. In conclusion, Jones’s Howl’s Moving Castle is a work of literary fiction rather than popular fiction. Jones demonstrates a clear adherence to both the fantasy literary tradition and the young adult literary tradition. Howl’s Moving Castle explores common themes associated with young adult literature through an unconventional fantasy setting which bolsters the believability of the novel. Jones effectively amplifies young adult themes by dramatizing them in a fantastical manner. Jones includes allusions to other literary works in her novel, but she does so atypically. Jones’s allusions adhere to tradition while deconstructing reality. It is apparent that Jones intended for the work to be read as a piece of literary art that takes the form of a young adult fantasy novel based on the sense of intricacy and interconnectivity that is displayed.

Works Cited

Butler, Charles. Four British Fantasists: Place and Culture in the Children’s Fantasies of Penelope Lively, Alan Garner, Diana Wynne Jones, and Susan Cooper. Rowman & Littlefield, 2006.

Dewan, Pauline. The Art of Place in Literature for Children and Young Adults: How Locale Shapes a Story. Edwin Mellen Press, 2010.

Jones, Diana Wynne. Howl’s Moving Castle. Eos, 2008.

Kaplan, Deborah. “Disrupted Expectations: Young/Old Protagonists in Diana Wynne Jones’s Novels.” Journal of the Fantastic in the Arts, vol. 21, no. 2, 2010, pp. 197-209.

Mendlesohn, Farah. Diana Wynne Jones: Children’s Literature and the Fantastic Tradition. Routledge, 2005.

Yavaş, Seda. “Diana Wynne Jones’s Howl’s Moving Castle (1986) Or The Story Of A New Mythology.” Journal of History, Culture & Art Research / Tarih Kültür Ve Sanat Arastirmalari Dergisi, vol. 4, no. 3, 2015, pp. 30-36.

The Relationship Between Diana Wynne Jonses’ and Miyazaki’s Versions of ‘Howls Moving Castle’

Diana Wynne Jones’ Howl’s Moving Castle has inspired many audiences with its witty, creative characters yet deep set storyline and messages. Through Miyazaki’s adaption of Howl’s Moving Castle, a new, equally valuable story has been composed. It is evident of the roles that identity, values, and beliefs play through the two compositions. Both Jones’ and Miyazaki’s work hold distinctive, individualised themes while simultaneously providing their audiences with familiar, recurring morals and content. It could be considered that these differences and similarities are what makes the stories themselves and give significance to both composers’ works respectively.

Personal ideals play a considerable part in creating Jones’ novel, Miyazaki’s adaptation similarly incorporates his own distinctive ethics and beliefs into his work, creating a uniqueness to his piece. Growing up as an ardent pacifist, Miyazaki has embodied major themes of war, machinery and military destruction as a distinctive theme throughout his animation. He explains that his own morals essentially influenced the adaptation, “I do not make films to send out messages of ecology, but because it is part of my values, the problem comes up in my films”. Unlike Jones’ original novel, military destruction and war act as the principle evil of his film, with Howl, rather than journeying to kill the witch of the waste, attempts to ultimately avoid military conscription. Many critics state that it is likely that Miyazaki’s narrative has been Influenced by his opposition to the United States’ invasion of Iraq in 2003, which was occurring during the time of creation with many of the scenes displaying destructive and volatile war visuals as seen when bombs are dropped through Sophie’s once undisturbed town.

While the appropriation pays considerable attention to the conflict caused by military demolition and industrialised machinery, Jones’ novel acts in accordance with what could be regarded as the classical western fairytale scheme, while also subverting fairytale conventions. Even with this western, idealistic storytelling, Jones embodies many of her own values into her text, explaining, “About ten years ago, boys started being prepared to read books with a female hero. I [found] everything had gone much easier without, then, being able to say how or why. Females weren’t expected to behave like wimps and you could make them the centre of the story. By that time anyway, I [found] the tactile sense of being female stopped bothering me – which may have been a part of the same revolution – and it was a release.” (Jones, Reflections on the Magic of Writing, p142). Jones’ text, while holding comedic value between characters, invites us to consider the ways in which our judgments of heroes are shaped through gender conventions and cultural influence. Jones establishes her protagonist, Sophie, as an adolescent girl managing feelings of inadequacy as well as belittling self-esteem issues. Jones has created a character that does not necessarily go against feminine stereotypes, but rather teaches female readers to embrace them if desired, as they do not make a woman any less resilient, powerful or brave. Through Sophie’s transformation in becoming an empowered motherly figure of the castle and embracing her own qualities, Jones’ explores the ideals and standards of feminism.

Another theme that is common between both compositions is the incorporation of cultural attitudes. Both Miyazaki and Jones, while overall following the basic scheme of classic western literature, have incorporated their respective cultural values. Miyazaki by no means holds his films in cultural isolation. The western, Japanese and European ideologies are prominent throughout his films. Miyazaki stated in an interview with OutNow that his integration of multi-cultural landscapes, themes and ideals were inspired by his interest in westernised concepts, stating, “We probably read more European than Japanese literature growing up. We read so much from different countries, Russia, France, Great Britain. So all these influences got mixed up… We were influenced by art, music, and films from Europe. Because of all these influences, I do not want to stick my films just to Japan.’ Miyazaki’s involvement in and exposure to international media is evident through his awe-inspiring landscapes, having travelled to Colmar and Riquewihr in France to study the architecture to gain inspiration for the composition. Within his victorian, steampunk world, many Japanese cultural concepts can be located. Miyazaki’s use of Japan classic style of artwork, anime, is established through many characters exaggerated physical features, as well as his implementation of techniques such as metamorphosis and plasticity through characters, settings, and objects.

Furthermore, through extensive use of Japanese indigenous religion, Shinto, a theme frequently displayed in Japanese popular culture, Miyazaki has exhibited significant relevance to modern life in Japan amongst the new generations. Although the adaption reflects a multicultural appreciation, Jones provides an almost exclusively westernised novel that explores modern fairytale conventions in depth. By disregarding the characteristics of customary fairytale heroines, Jones creates challenging yet enticing characters and allows her personas to overlook the formulaic expectations of western fairytales. Jones discusses the stereotypes of modern female heroes and furthermore creates a disruption of the culture of Western literature by venturing beyond constraints and placing her protagonist in the body of a 90-year-old woman. Jones persists; having Sophie respond controversially, telling her image in the mirror, ‘Don’t worry old thing . . . this is much more like you really are’ (Jones 2000, p.33) and ventures out of Ingary. Cultural themes are both challenged and adhered to through both composers works of Howl’s Moving Castle, producing a fusion of the traditional and modern roles of cultural representation.

Although Miyazaki and Jones’ composition hold their own values and influences, both the textual and cinematic compositions present their audience with similar morals and themes relating to harmony between one’s self and surroundings. A radical change in the social roles is prevalent in both compositions. It is through Miyazaki’s adaption that we see Sophie undertake stages of emotional and physical metamorphosis as she develops and evolves. Beginning with Sophie’s alteration from an eighteen-year-old to a ninety-year-old, Miyazaki unveils Sophie’s first emotional stage of self-doubt. As the story progresses, we see Sophie’s outward appearance transform from time to time as a young girl with brown hair as well as a 50-60-year-old woman. It is during the last portion of the film that Sophie regains her original features, yet looks almost younger and more confident than previously. This metamorphosis of character displays a parallel to her emotional growth through the film, with Miyazaki stating he hopes Sophie’s transformation would act as a lesson on growth for herself and the audience, “I didn’t want is make it seem that turning old was such a bad thing, the idea was that maybe shell have learned a little while being old for a while.” As Sophie develops a bond with the remaining characters and expands her sense of bravery, she grows into her own skin, emotionally and physically. Miyazaki, while presenting a heartwarming story, uses his characters to explore the ideas of internal and external growth. Jones similarly explores Sophie’s journey towards contentment within herself, by beginning the novel stating that,

“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 the three. Everyone knows you are the one who will fail first, and worst, if the three of you set out to seek your fortunes.” This pretext to Sophie’s fantasy realm gives Jones’ audience a clear indicator of the misfortune that Sophie is bound to encounter. Her meek and discouraged persona furthermore indicates Sophie’s knowledge of her inevitable failure, yet through her premature ageing, she becomes forced to begin her journey. Sophie, throughout the course of the novel, eventually begins to understand her power and influence on her surroundings and begins to appreciate her new, confident outlook. Even with her young body returned, her self-assured attitude and assertiveness remains, with Sophie expressing at the end of the novel,

“I think we ought to live happily ever after,” and she thought he meant it. Sophie knew that living happily ever after with Howl would be a good deal more hair-raising than any storybook made it sound, though she was determined to try. “It should be hair-raising,” added Howl.

“And you’ll exploit me,” Sophie said.

“And then you’ll cut up all my suits to teach me.”’

Jones has created a novel that has charmed and enthralled readers since 1986. Jones’ witty and inspiring characters, along with provocative writing continues to inspire her audience and has challenged many fantasy tropes. It is due to the timelessness and relevance of Howl’s Moving Castle that it has remained a popular choice among many. Studio Ghibli’s adaption of Jones’ novel holds equal amounts of meaning and value to many. Miyazaki’s dream-like animations paired with his personal touches evoke new, powerful messages. Due to his exquisite composition, the film Howl’s Moving Castle has achieved international popularity. Both are fine examples of how composers imbue their personal and cultural values and ideals into their texts.

Bibliography

OutNow.com – Howls Moving Castle Interview With Miyazaki H. 2005/09/08. https://outnow.ch/Movies/News/2005/09/08/Howls-Moving-Castle-Interview-mit-Hayao-Miyazaki

http://www.newfeminism.co/2012/10/diana-wynne-jones/ October 18, 2012 by Henry Karlson

http://romancenovelsforfeminists.blogspot.com/2014/12/film-and-novel-feminism-diana-wynne.html, 2014, Jackie C

Cavallaro, Dani (2015). Hayao Miyazaki’s World Picture. McFarland www.worldpicturebeyond.com/miyazaki

Smith, Lindsay (1 April 2011). “War, Wizards, and Words: Transformative Adaptation and Transformed Meanings in Howl’s Moving Castle”. The rolling stones and Media Journal. 11 https://www.rollingstone.com/movies/movie-reviews/howls-moving-castle-251231/