Howl’s Moving Castle: Book vs. Film

The books of Diana Wynne Jones are charming and playful, with meandering plots that resemble a stroll in the English countryside (plus magic!). The films of Hayao Miyazaki are inventive, startling, and visionary (plus magic!). You’d think the two wouldn’t mix. Actually, after viewing the film Howl’s Moving Castle, many people would say just that–the two don’t mix.

I’m a big fan of both Jones and Miyazaki, so I guess it’s no surprise that I enjoy both the novel Howl’s Moving Castle and the film based on it. But I have to admit that they are two very different creatures. The central plot of both the book and the film is roughly the same: a young woman named Sophie is cursed to transform into an old woman and then encounters the magical, moving castle owned by the wizard Howl and his fire demon.

But the book presents several quiet episodes that don’t appear in the movie. The movie for its part adds a lot of grim war scenes and ups the role of the main villain, the Witch of the Waste (although she loses her villain status in the end). I’m guessing that many fans of Diana Wynne Jones’s work found the film just too weird. Why does Howl turn into a gross bird-monster? What’s with all the apocalyptic war scenes? How did the Witch manage to stuff herself into that teeny tiny vehicle that looks like it can barely contain her massive face?

That’s why I love the movie! It’s so weird. It’s full of surprises. Instead of getting a page-to-frame translation of the novel, we get a whole new story to enjoy. The castle isn’t like anything anyone would expect, yet it’s still fascinating and homey and quite magical despite its mechanical appearance. The Wizard Howl is more tragic (and more bishounen, if you care about that kind of thing). Sophie is more comic with her old woman grunts and shuffles and cackles.

Miyazaki definitely imposed his own style onto Jones’s story–his typical anti-war message, his mechanical marvels, his love of nature. Oddest of all, he gave Jones’s English characters a Japanese air. I love seeing Jones’s novel through Miyazaki’s lens, especially since I know I always have Jones’s book to go back to when I want to return to the original story. Then again, I tend to prefer movies that diverge from their source material because I don’t see the need for repetition.

How do you feel about movies that have a different take on the books they’re based on? What do you think about differences between the book and the film of Howl’s Moving Castle?

Parker Peevyhouse

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34 Comments

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34 responses to “Howl’s Moving Castle: Book vs. Film

  1. Natalie Aguirre

    I do agree the movie and book were very different, but I still really liked the movie. My daughter, who never read the book, loved the movie and watched it multiple times.

    I recognize that a movie cannot show everything that a book does, but it should stick to the main plot. I think that’s one reason fans of The Lightening Thief or the last Harry Potter movie were disappointed with the movies.

    A lot of movies don’t seem to capture the wonder of the books. Inkheart would be an example. The Lord of the Rings movies and the earlier Harry Potter movies are ones in my opinion that get it right. Ot must be disappointing to an author to find that the movie doesn’t do that well and there’s not a sequel. I wonder if the movies in these cases hurts sales of the book.

    • It’s my understanding that the movie of The Da Vinci Code knocked the book off the bestseller list… but that a movie hurting the book is really rare, and most movies, no matter how bad, increase sales simply because they increase visibility.

      That’s all anecdotal, though — I’ve never seen anything like actual figures.

      • Parker Peevyhouse

        I wonder if the Da Vinci Code book had run its course by then, though. And whatever happened, it didn’t stop them from filming a prequel.

        I’d tend to think, like Joni, that even a bad movie improves visibility of a book. I’d think that would be even more true of kids’ movies, since kids aren’t always the best critics. And since they tend to buy into the hype even before the film gets to screens.

    • Chris Eboch

      I heard Joseph Heller speak some years ago, and an audience member asked him how he felt about the movie version of Catch 22 (which was a critical failure and didn’t do well). He just shrugged and said, “I got more money from the movie rights than for all the years the book has been in print.”

      On the other hand, I’ve heard of an author asking to have his name removed from the movie adaptation credits, because he didn’t like where the movie went. It probably depends a lot on the author’s expectations. A movie has to diverge from the original book, and authors have little control, so it probably works best if the author can emotionally step away from their work.

    • Shelly

      Where can I find the book!?!?! XO I cant seem to find it, google isnt be’n much help :(

  2. I haven’t read the HOWL book but I’ve seen the movie and it is weird but charming, too. I didn’t like the war scenes or when the magic seemed out of control (I like logic to my magic). But I loved Sophie and her relationship with other characters. My daughter, who is a fan of Japanese anime, loves the movie very much.

    I’ve read a few of Wynne’s books, loving her plots but not always connecting with the style. I need to try to a few more. Any suggestions (keeping in mind I like magic to be more plot-structured and logical)?

    • Parker Peevyhouse

      You might try CHARMED LIFE, which is one of my favorites. I also love CONRAD’S FATE. A recent one is HOUSE OF MANY WAYS. I’m not sure you’ll ever find orderly magic in Wynne’s books, but CHARMED LIFE perhaps has the most logic behind it.

  3. It took me a long, long, long time to be able to forgive Miyazaki for that one. And then I remembered: cultural differences. Plus, movie people – what can you do? They see the world in a wide-screen shot that includes things you didn’t put in the picture.

    Now I like both. The movie is TOTALLY quirky, incomprehensible in parts, and full of weird. And that’s okay.

    • Parker Peevyhouse

      The cultural differences definitely come into play here. And personality–I think Miyazaki feels compelled to be anit-war, pro-environment no matter what film he’s creating.

  4. I didn’t like the movie, perhaps because I adore the book. I love the way Sophie is such a funny character and drives the story, rather than the movie which turns it into an action adventure and really removes the story from Sophie. She becomes sidekick to Howl and war.
    Because of your comments I may give the film a second chance.
    Another movie that really made me unhappy was the cable adaptation of A Wizard of Earthsea. Once again the filmmakers really lost sight of what I thought made the book so great. They turned it into formula and lost the voice and message, at least in my opinon (and I believe in Ursula LeGuin’s, as well)

    • Parker Peevyhouse

      I never saw The Wizard of Earthsea–I think I’d heard bad things about it. I enjoyed the book, though. I’m also a bit sad that The Dark is Rising looked like a pretty cheesy adaptation of a serious book, although I never actually saw the film so I could be wrong.

      • If you mean “Tales From Earthsea”, a quick word of warning: That movie is NOT created by Hayao Miyazaki. A lot of people watched it under the impression that it was his work, when actually it was done by his child. Also, the movie may confuse many people who were familiar with the original trilogy, because it isn’t based off those books. It comes from a later add-on volume called Tehanu.

  5. I found the characters from the movie and the book were vastly different. I preferred the incredibly vain Howl from the book as opposed to the noble Howl from the movie. But that’s just my opinion.

  6. Nish

    I have seen the movie and read the book and I usually like books more than their movie adaptations. However in this case I felt the book petered out at the end and was disappointed with the rather abrupt end. Most of the book was really good, though.
    I dont come from either the UK or Japan, but I can relate to both versions and am a bit surprised at the comments about “cultural differences” that somehow smack of a bit of racism to me. I hope I am mistaken about that. I suppose I am hyper-sensitive to comments on so-called “culture” – currently living in an increasingly intolerant right-wing/neo-nazi, formerly imperialist part of Europe [which however prides itself on its supposed liberal-democratic values] and growing up earlier in a country where racism and ideas of cultural superiority led to war.
    It seems that people who didnt like the movie are not generally anime and/or Miyazake “appreciators” and cannot take the movie on its own merits and have an aversion to the inclusion of the “pacifist” parts. Personally, I think adding a bit of pacifism never hurts anyone. I cant look at the Narnia stories or Harry Potter in the same way now, because of the current, very real and horrible and illegal use of child soldiers or child militia in war. Getting a sword from Father Christmas and Dumbledore’s Army of 15 year-olds rather turns my stomach, although it was great fun to read C.S. Lewis when I was a child [and the racism also wasnt noticed].
    I also like seeing the mix of different outlooks and the growth and change of the story in the hands of another creative genius, albeit not from the UK background of the author, DWJ. But I think that that is what good stories are – common to different human experiences and able to grow and to communicate them across time and space. I love anime/Miyazake and children’s fantasy books both and enjoyed both versions. But if asked to recommend only one, I would recommend Miyazake/the movie and add for information that its based/adapted from DWJ. On the otherhand, if asked the same question about e.g. the Lord of the Rings, I would recommend the books/Tolkein for the beautiful language it is written in – although I really enjoyed the movies [they are my favourite movies and watched each of them dozens of times over.]

    • You make a most excellent point Nish!

    • LizzieL

      When posters mention cultural differences, I think they mean that Japanese film is less accessible to European/American viewers because of the language barrier and different film styles (anime, cartoons for serious/deeper content, more gaps in conversation, etc).

      Personally, I really enjoyed the film and the book. I’m not sure I can pick a favorite. They are very different in a lot of ways and similar in others. The focus switches away from Sophie. Hal becomes more of a hero. The villain changes from Witch of the Waste to War/Madame Suliman.The themes in the movie are more intense. I don’t mind the pacificism, but the war wasn’t in the book at all. So, I can see why some ardent lovers of the books would be irritated at its presence.

      Racism in Narnia? What in the world are you on about? I think your view of the Harry Potter series and Narnia is extremely bleak. These stories have many positive lessons they pass on to children. Additionally, the war in Harry Potter is hardly shown as positive. And in the end, Harry’s steadfastness and love saves everyone. Just as Sophie’s love saves Howl, who is also involved in a war he wishes didn’t exist.

  7. Katyfeb20

    I love movies based off books, but I prefer them to either be enirely identical or like howls moving castle, lots of differences. I don’t want it ruined like twilight was… They killed too many important scenes and added ones that weren’t needed. it was the same story, but stuff added and subtracted. Howls moving castle (from what I’ve heard…haven’t read the book yet) seems to be be kinda a different story in the movie than it is in the book…

  8. I personally think the movie is better because the book seems to take away feeling from the movie don’t you think? And to think I’m British!

  9. Gabyb22

    I loved both, I really enjoiyed them a lot, even do they are diferent is really awesom to see how the same story can take two diferent paths :)

  10. Michelle

    i liked both the movie and the book though yes there were vast differences. I preferred the plot in the book-i loved her family (Lettie, Martha and Fanny were all central parts to the story) and I loved Sohpie’s character (being rather dense and it was funny to read the book from her perspective.) Also i actually did like Howl better in the book-having a vain character is something quite different. And i was rather upset by the portrayal of the Witch of the Waste in the movie-she was not enormously huge nor obsessed with Howl. They didn’t include Miss Angorian either in movie-the central villain. Also i LOVED the ending of the book with all the fast-paced action. They also cut out Michael in the film (replaced with Markl who was a tiny toddler…doesn’t really make sense…) whom i loved as a character. And that epic magic fight between the Witch and Howl at Porthaven! And parts of the curse coming true, and Mrs Pentstemmon…etc Lots of details.

  11. Michelle

    (Cont.) I also liked how Sophie stayed as an old woman throughout MOST of the book (up until the last few pages i think) and it was revealed she was keeping the curse on herself, which i found fitting for her character as she had always felt trapped by being the eldest, so the witch’s curse would actually have freed herself to seek her fortune and speak out.On the other hand the movie had a BEAUTIFUL soundtrack and the characters all felt engaging and Sophie and Howl had very sweet moments (and cheesy lines haha) together which the book implies but doesn’t specify near the end. The movie had the wonderful Miya

    • LizzieL

      I agree. I read the book second, and I was really pleased by those sorts of bits and pieces that really made the story make sense. The book kind of spells it out for you. Music was great!

  12. Ludens

    The thing with Studio Ghibli’s novel adaptations is that they aren’t really adaptations but re-interpretations. Howl’s Moving Castle wasn’t an adaptation of the book but a re-invention of the book and it’s two sequels. The giant bird creature was taken from the second book Castle in the Air, the purple servants of the Witch of the Wastes come from the third House of many Ways. There actually is a war between the first and second novel. Many elements have been merged together into something new, while others were left out and new once introduced.

    Same with Studio Ghibli’s Earthsea movie, which was a wild mix of all five books of Ursula K. LeGuin’s Earthsea series.

  13. Ashley

    Well I have only seen the movie and I loved it and so did my sister and her birthday is coming up and i’m not sure if I should get her the movie or the book. Which one should I get her.

  14. Alayna

    As someone who has read the book and seen the movie, I have to admit, I hated the movie when I first saw it in theatres because of how different it was from the original plot. However, it’s been many years since I have experienced either, so I decided to go ahead and watch the movie again with the benefit of not remembering much of any details from the book. When the movie is taken as it’s own entity, it really is a wonderful story. Can’t go wrong with Studio Ghibli artwork of course, it’s absolutely stunning, and the whole affair becomes a riveting tale of love in the midst of the worst that any war can throw at people. It does help to know of Howl’s vain character from the book before watching the movie though, or else a couple of things are rather confusing, and all the previous and developing relationships have to be taken with a bit of blind acceptance (no asking ‘why?’ It just is). All in all though, it’s a great movie to watch if you’re a fan of Studio Ghibli.

    As for the book itself, I love it too and want to read it again as soon as I get my hands on another copy, mine having mysteriously disappeared in the many moves I’ve made over the last couple years. However, I would not go into reading it or watching the movie with the expectation the either will resemble the other. Enjoy them for what they are, which is essentially, two very different stories with romance and bad guys aplenty.

  15. setareh

    i read the book too. the movie was so different so i didnt liked it. i dont say that they should show eveything but i say that the movie should be real story but shorter than the book… but from the middle of the films the story wasnt real and all was a lie…

  16. One difference I can felt as soon as I watched the film and read the book, Ghibli’s “Howl’s Moving Castle” was much more look like a fairy tale than the novel, more magically. We can not deny that living in a huge castle could moved to anywhere with a handsome young witch could do anything he wants is the beautiful dream that all of us had when we were a little dreamy girl (Even though I grow up now, I still dream about this ^^”). And the film sucessfully brought me to the wonderland, where anything fiction could become truth that the book could not. Or maybe the translation in my country just was so bad in comparison with the origin.

    Anyway, I properbly prefer the film. Because after watched it, thought ran over my head “I love it, really love it. And I’m going crazy because of Howl. Wow~”. It’s a wonderful film, right?

  17. Mae

    I really like Miyazaki, and I was an active anime fan for a long time, but I find this re-adaptation, as Ludens put it, rather jarring. If Miyazaki wanted to change the plot that much, then I feel he should’ve just made an entirely new movie. The differences are so great that naming this after the book (which I really, really prefer) is a bit pointless. I also find the timing of some plot developments rather off– I never saw a reason for movie!Sophie to suddenly declare that she loves Howl, etc. The re-characterisations and paring down of the plot took some of the complexity out of the book as well. I’ll stick to the Spirited Away and Princess Mononoke.

  18. Nyx

    I watched the movie before I read the book and loved it! I’ve watched it at my Grandmas house since I can remember every weekend. I didn’t even know there was a book until I accidentally found it looking for another book. I read it twice and became slightly disappointed in the movie. They didn’t have calcifer and his little hints about the shooting star. Also, they didn’t have Sophie meet with the king or the time traveling one either. Another thing that was the one that I didn’t like the most was that they didn’t have Fanny! They also didn’t show how lettie and fanny traded bodies or that their mother sent them all away. I liked how Michael fell in love with fanny and that he was a teenager, in the movie his name was Marcel and he was just a child!

    But, even with the many other differences that I didn’t write down, it’s still my absolute favorite movie of all time. I did t the math and I’ve watched the movie over one hundred times (seriously, not even kidding) and I still watch it once a week when I don’t have anything else to watch. When my friend first watched it I mimicked nearly every persons line and totally creeped her out, it was hilarious and she said if I didn’t stop that she wouldn’t talk to me again because t was so creepy…

  19. Pingback: Howl és az ő vándorló palotája | Japán adaptációk

  20. Celandyne

    I don’t like the movie at all. I have a friend that would kill someone for insulting the movie and I know there are a lot of people like that. I saw it before I read the book, and I only read the book because I read any fantasy stories I can get my hands on. Like someone said, the movie had so much uncontrolled magic, it was almost nonsensical in moments. There was also a lack of serious characters. Really, the only serious characters were Howl and Sophie. Micheal became a cariacture, Sophie’s sister was of very little importance to the story; the plot about Prince Justin and Wizard Sulivan just wasn’t there. That’s another reason the movie felt dramatically deficient and lonely for me. The movie focused on romance between Howl and Sophie and left out so many other things that I would have liked to see. So if you don’t care for the romance, you probably won’t like this movie. The book version of HMC however was a quirky, startling, charming story.
    Also I have the feeling that in Mayazakis mind Sophie’s sister Lettie and her mother-in-law were the Americans. They were fair and blonde and kind of ugly in a way, with square faces and big shiny lips. But Sophie is dark and more delicate looking without the traits mentioned. Howl is a much smaller man than the soldiers that Sophie runs into in the beggining of the movie. He also loses his blonde hair to black. You could say Sophie and Howl have Japanese features. They are very noble, while Lettie her mother are completely ignoble. I don’t know if this American-bashing is real and intended or if Im just imagining it but given the negative comment Miyazaki made about America’s situation and the war in Iraq and it’s inspiration for him in this movie, I wouldn’t put him past it.
    Also, I read the book every couple of years, I like it so much =) I’m also a fan of anime and manga and I do like a couple of Studio Ghibli’s other movies, namely Nausicaa, Princess Mononokee, and Spirited Away.

  21. maru

    I feel like I could forgive Miyazaki if this movie hadn’t purported to be an adaption of HMC. It’s not. It’s too different. Nothing is consistently translated from the book to the screen: not the characters, the names, the locations, the plot… no element of the film is a true reflection of what occurred in the book. If it had been titled something else (you know, like how they titled the movie “Frozen” frozen and not “Snow Queen” or something) and had been up front about being “inspired by the novel ‘Howl’s Moving Castle’”, I could probably forgive Miyazaki, who I otherwise love. This way, though, people who see the movie without the book assume that the movie and the book are basically the same, when they almost couldn’t be any different.

    And for all of the film’s quirkiness, it is also painfully simplistic. Every character, including Howl and Sophie, are watered down and gentrified to fit the standards of a Miyazaki film. I love film (heck, I majored in it!) and I love adaptions of books and plays, but the best adaptions, in my opinion are the ones that do one of the following: completely change the nature of the story for practical reasons (Nosferatu, for example, changed the plot of Dracula in order to avoid law-suit), change the nature of the story so as to critique or highlight some aspect of it or use it’s themes to critique some other aspect of society (West Side Story, comparing gang rivalries to the waring houses in Romeo and Juliet), expand a short story to movie length (Brokeback Mountain, Where The Wild Things Are), or try their hardest to evoke the themes, characters, and plot of the source material (The Silence of the Lambs). Most important is a respectful approach to the material. This is completely absent in Miyazaki’s film: it appears irreverent to the source material, changing fundamental aspects of the book seemingly at random for no apparent reason (Whose Madam Sulliman? Why is the Witch of the Waste alive at the end? Why is Howl turning into a bird a problem? What do these changes do to improve the film?). It fails to improve the story and it fails to uphold it, which, in my mind, makes it a poor adaption.

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