Episode Number: 101
Episode Title: Howl’s Moving Castle by Diana Wynne Jones (listen to this episode)
Transcript by: Susan the Great
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Renay: Hey friends! I’m Renay.
Ana: And I’m Ana.
Renay: And you’re listening to Fangirl Happy Hour: Vault Episode.
Renay: Today on our Vault episode we’re going to discuss Howl’s Moving Castle by Diana Wynne Jones. We’re discussing the book, and unfortunately not so much the film, because it’s impossible to find streaming anywhere.
Ana: In the UK at least.
Renay: And in the US. I also had a lot of trouble.
Ana: Oh, right!
Renay: I tried to find it for you thinking that I could get it and you could use my account, which is cheating, but technically not because I would have paid for it, but nobody wants us to have the film. So alas, we’ll probably only lightly touch on the film itself. But the book has a lot of great things about it. First off, I’m going to admit that this is the only Diana Wynne Jones that I’ve ever read.
Renay: That silence you hear is Ana mourning my life and my choices.
Ana: Renay, why? I just… This… I can’t believe this is how we’re starting this conversation. How do you read Howl’s Moving Castle and not immediately want to read everything else that she has written? Cause that’s exactly what happened to me. [gasp] Because you didn’t like it!
Renay: Of course I like it!
Ana: Oh god, my heart.
Renay: I like how you go immediately to the worst possible scenario.
Renay: I bought the first book to read after I saw the film. I didn’t get the first book.
Ana: What do you mean?
Renay: I didn’t get it. I didn’t understand what was happening. I’d also not been reading a lot of fantasy and I don’t think this book is good for people who haven’t read fantasy before or who have been away from fantasy for a long time.
Renay: So oops, that was a mistake. I liked it okay, but I just was confused. When I reread it the second time, it was much better. I liked it a lot. I was like, “Oh, okay, I get it. All right, I see what’s happened here.” But I’d also been reading other fantasy at that point. So the reason that I didn’t go and read everything that she’d ever written is because the library didn’t have it.
Ana: Is it possible that she’s not as popular in the US as she is in the UK?
Renay: Or that she’s just not popular where I live. And because the library didn’t have it—any of her other work, at that time—I did not have the money to go and buy so therefore I didn’t read it. Once time had gone by it just sort of fell off my radar. Access is important! So yes, I have managed to go through my entire life so far having read only one Diana Wynne Jones book.
Ana: And you reread it for the podcast.
Ana: Okay, I’ve read it twice.
Renay: Because you don’t reread.
Ana: I’ve read this book for the first time a few years ago, for the Book Smugglers, and it was my first Diana Wynne Jones. And after that I just started buying all of them and falling in love with her writing and the way that she writes fantasy. And I’m not sure whether we should start talking about that immediately or we should go back and talk about the plot and our feelings about the book. What do you think?
Renay: Would we say that in our own version of canon, we would put Diana Wynne Jones as part of fantasy canon that you need to have read. But not have, because nobody HAS to read anything, but as like an important part of the development of fantasy.
Ana: Yeah, I would say so. Generally speaking yes, and especially so if you want to understand the UK side of fantasy writing, too.
Renay: Is that where she’s from?
Ana: Yes! For example, Neil Gaiman used to be really good friends with her and I know that he has said multiple times that she has influenced his writing, too.
Renay: So I really think we’re dealing with a potentially cultural divide, where she is from the UK and that’s where her books are big, and she’s only marginally known over here?
Ana: I think it’s worse than that. I don’t think she’s as big in the UK, either.
Ana: I think so. Because I don’t hear her mentioned a lot when it comes to YA; when it comes to adult fantasy. I think she should be part of any list. Do you know how sometimes—the one token woman would be Ursula Le Guin. I don’t understand why that one token woman is not Diana Wynne Jones. She’s written more than forty books and she’s won a couple of awards like the Mythopoetic award. She won the World Fantasy Award for Life Achievement, and I don’t understand how she hasn’t gotten more like Hugo nomination. I don’t think she’s ever had one. I truly find this woman’s work so brilliant. I think she writes great books for kids, that are smart, subtle, that have a great grasp of the fantastical and of the surreal. At the same time that she writes great characters with beautiful arcs and a lot of them are women.
Renay: So once again we’re faced with the fact that I didn’t know about Diana Wynne Jones even though she was publishing around the the time I was reading Madeleine L’Engle and writers like that. It’s a thing that I’ve just come to accept as part of my reality is that not only was I locked out of a lot of the backlists of women writers, they were also kept from me by culture. What would have happened if Diana Wynne Jones had been Darren Wynne Jones. Darren Wynne Jones would be probably a household name.
Renay: But because Jones is trapped in a literary culture that erases women and suppresses their backlist and doesn’t afford them a place on recommendation lists, on award lists, in a mainstream way, it doesn’t catch on the way it could. The only exception to this probably would be Howl’s Moving Castle because obviously we got the movie adaptation. When I talk about Diana Wynne Jones most people know Howl’s Moving Castle, and if they don’t know Diana Wynne Jones, they still know Howl’s Moving Castle, so that one made it. But if I was asked to name another Diana Wynne Jones, I’d be like, “Chestromanci…? Is that a Diana Wynne Jones book?”
Ana: Chrestomanci, yeah.
Renay: I pronounced it incorrectly which shows you just how bad it is. I was recommended that series but was very confused about the reading order so I never tried it.
Ana: Oh, I can help you with that!
Renay: Oh boy, Ana has a project. Great.
Ana: I love this series. It’s one of my favorites. I love every single book in that series. Please start with Charmed Life. You’re welcome. So Howl’s Moving Castle. How much do you love this book?
Renay: The first time I read it: mildly. Because I liked the characters but I was very confused about what was happening. The second time I read it I loved it wholeheartedly because I finally understood everything that was going on. And then this time I was charmed anew, it’s so lovely, except I had more critiques this time, rather than going, “This is just the best thing ever!” because I’m a different reader than when I read it that second time.
Renay: It’s still a very very good book, I love it a whole bunch. I would give it four space bees.
Ana: Okay. I want to understand why.
Renay: Okay. My critique is with the romance, that for me in the book comes out of flipping nowhere. I understand what’s happening, like I can see throughout the book what she’s doing, but for me as a reader it just doesn’t work. I get to the end and they’re all gazing into each other’s eyes and I’m just like, “Oh, yeah, I get it, but where was the other parts that wasn’t just fighting?” I understand, I’m in fandom, I get it, fighting, it’s UST, it’s a thing.
Ana: It’s more than fighting, though. I’ve graduated from the Megan Whalen Turner school of romance.
Renay: Yes. I know.
Ana: Where things happen very, very subtly, and it’s what happens here. So reading for the second time, and expecting it—more because I knew what was going to happen—it’s so clear to me the moments where those two are falling for each other and what they have been doing for each other. Of course, it’s spelled out more in the end, when they say it. When Howl’s saying that he has been making her feel less pain and throughout the novel the signs are all there, because, yes, they fight. But she’s always defending him somehow, she’s always saying how nice—actually Howl is a really nice person, and he does this nice thing and this other nice thing and this other nice thing. And she’s preparing food for him and then she is also taking care of his stuff and of his friends and of his house. And of course she’s jealous, obviously, of all the ladies, because she can’t see that he’s actually treating the ladies bad because she doesn’t see them and the friends tell her that it’s just a disguise. I’s just a ruse that he has created for different reasons. I find it very very clever the way that it’s done, and how it morphs with the rest of the plot, too.
Renay: Like I said, I could see it.
Ana: Yeah, it really works for me. And in the end when they are there are she says, “If Sophie was paying attention,” and then she just describes everything going around them but of course they are not paying attention to anything going around them because they are just gazing into each other eyes and saying they’re just going to live together and have a happy ever after! I just love it so much!
Renay: I did not graduate from this Megan Whalen Turner School of Romance. I graduated from the Fandom School of Romance, which are two totally different schools!
Renay: Not only are they on different coasts, they’re on different planets on different coasts. So yeah, I see and agree with everything you’re saying, it just doesn’t work for me, as a reader and what I want out of romance narratives.
Renay: But that doesn’t make it bad.
Ana: It’s not a Renay thing. That’s okay.
Renay: But everything else in the book is great. I loved all the character relationships. I like the strong ties between the sisters and how they care and support each other and that’s a line through the book. Because I’m so used to the film where the sisters like, disappear from the narrative. Because I’ve seen the movie way more times than I’ve read the book. This time I really enjoyed reading the book and seeing the sisters caring about each other and caring about what happens to one another because the movie just completely erased it. Since you don’t remember it, the film actually keeps the fact that the mom is not the greatest person, because in the book she’s taking advantage of Sophie. The film sort of does that, because if you recall the film the mom comes and sabotages Calcifer.
Ana: Oh. I don’t remember any of that.
Renay: The film and the book separate very early on. Let’s put it that way. But I think that the book does a better job of keeping Sophie’s pre-curse relationships intact and I really enjoyed getting to see her defend her sisters.
Ana: There is a lot of perception, right? So Sophie’s perception of herself is the biggest thing in the novel, and there is her perception of Howl, that changes throughout. There is her perception of her stepmother that begins in one way—just goes down and goes up again. It changes through depending on who she’s talking to, and that’s—I think that’s true to almost everything in life, right? So that’s one of the things that I love the most about this—is Sophie’s perception of herself as an accursed person for being the eldest daughter that then plays a huge role in her keeping the witch’s spell on herself and not breaking that before. The greatest thing about Diana Wynne Jones is how she writes for children—cause this is a children’s novel—she writes for children but she does not dumb down her narrative in any way shape or form. She assumes kids are smart and they are capable of reading between the lines and understanding that. I actually read a really fascinating interview with her saying that when asked, “What is the main difference between writing for children and writing for adults,” is that in her adult novels, her editors make her—or used to make her—explain things to a degree that she would never think to do when she was writing for children so she literally has to dumb down her books for adults because adults do not want to do the work. And that kind of like makes me think about all the infodump that we tend to get with adult books, especially when there is worldbuilding and fantasy and science fiction.
Renay: Now I’m curious. Have men popularized infodumps and made adult readers lazy, because they’re the most widely published category? [laughter]
Ana: Let’s generalize! And make a theory! Of science fiction and fantasy! Right now!
Renay: Somebody’s gonna send me a very angry email. Guys, it was halfway a joke.
Renay: [laughter] Okay, out of all the characters in this book, who is your favorite character, beside Sophie because obviously we all love Sophie.
Ana: Howl, obviously.
Renay: Is it?
Ana: Yes! He walks around like a fucking peacock, like, changes his beautiful clothes and spends two hours in the shower every morning to prettify himself for ladies. Aw, come on. [laughter] I love it. He’s a perfect asshole.
Renay: That’s true. My favorite character is Calcifer.
Ana: Oh yes! I love Calcifer too, goddammit.
Renay: You can only choose one, Ana, and you’ve already chosen Howl, so I get Calcifer.
Ana: Of course it’s going to be Howl for me, Renay, I love peacock men. But Calcifer is great, too.
Renay: Although this time I really realize that if I had to choose which Calcifer I liked the best, I would choose movie Calcifer. The film managed to do something with that character that obviously a book can’t do, but I still love book Calcifer a whole lot. Although I had a question for you about Calcifer’s ability to see through Sophie’s curse and Howl’s ability to see through Sophie’s curse. Because the film, even though you haven’t seen it, I’ll give you an explainer, at night in the film, Sophie’s sleeping and Howl comes home late. He opens the little nook where she sleeps, and he doesn’t see an old lady, he sees Sophie. And the film is suggesting that he has ALWAYS been able to see through the curse and so I was curious because as I read the book, I was like, “Can Howl also see through the curse in the book?”
Ana: In the end he says to her, “I was hoping you would be that young lady that I saw at the shop” so I think he sees there is a magic there, and of course through his investigation with her sisters he knows that she’s younger and once he knows I bet he spoke to Calcifer about it, too.
Renay: The book doesn’t let Howl see through the curse but the film does, which I always thought was very interesting choice.
Ana: Yeah, I think from the movie, if I remember correctly, she kept going back and forth between old and young, didn’t she, depending on what she was doing?
Renay: Depending on how confident she felt in herself.
Ana: Exactly, yeah. But that doesn’t happen in the book. Or if does, it happens very slowly because she lets go of the pain in her joints and she feels more spry, she can go up the stairs very easily in the end, she can run faster when she’s running with Howl. It does work a little bit more, but I think she still appears as a ninety year old.
Renay: And I think the film did that specifically because it’s very easy visually to show that happening, whereas in the book you would have to show it differently. So they just chose two different ways to communicate the same idea, which I thought was very, very cool.
Renay: Although I’ll never get over Howl being voiced by Batman.
Renay: In the English dub of Howl’s Moving Castle Howl is voiced by Christian Bale.
Ana: Oh! My God! You know, when you said that, I thought you meant Adam West for some reason. Why would I go back to the first Batman? Who the fuck knows? But yes, I remember now. That that was a huge draw for me because I love Christian Bale’s voice.
Renay: It’s very strange to read this book and read Howl in this book and read it in Christian Bale’s voice, which I do, because I have the film.
Ana: It sounds very childish in this book, right?
Renay: Another thing that the book did that the film didn’t, the film went a completely different direction, which I understand. In the book, Howl comes from our universe.
Renay: And somehow he’s hopped—universe-hopped—to this other universe, and he actually comes from the UK, where his sister thinks he’s actually just a good for nothing. I loved the whole section where they put in a car.
Ana: Because it’s from her perspective it doesn’t even mention that it is a car, but we know it is because we recognize it, right? But for her, the experience of being inside this thing that is just, like rolling, and it’s—it’s really cool. I love Diana Wynne Jones so much. You have no idea.
Renay: I love this book.
Ana: We should read together, a new-to-us, to both of us, Diana Wynne Jones novel.
Renay: You’re admitting that there’s a new-to-you Diana Wynne Jones novel?
Ana: There are several, because I’m keeping them. She’s dead, Renay.
Ana: She died recently.
Renay: This is so sad. This got so sad!
Ana: There’s only so many books left! And she can’t write any more! She left one half-written that her sister finished it for her and I haven’t read that one yet. I have several! It’s her and Terry Pratchett. I’m very slowly making my way through their books.
Renay: Moment of silence for Diana Wynne Jones, who I either did not know she had died, or forgot.
Ana: She died… Um… In 2011.
Renay: I definitely forgot. I was in the book community at that point. I would have seen it.
Ana: You definitely saw it, because it was a big deal. So let us read something new to both of us.
Renay: … It was a trick. This entire time. This whole episode was a trick! Okay, patrons. Which of you bought Ana off to vote for Howl’s Moving Castle?
Renay: Who was it.
Ana: All of them.
Ana: [laughter] I’m gonna make a list for you. Of the ones that I haven’t read yet, and then we can decide.
Renay: What if I don’t like it, what happens then. Is our podcast over? Is our friendship ended?
Ana: Yes, it’s over. I was like the first thing I was gonna say is. It’s over. Our friendship may survive this. The podcast I’m not so sure about.
Renay: Listen, you survived me not giving some Megan Whalen Turner books five stars.
Ana: It’s only because I forgot it. I made myself forget this fact. And you just reminded—I think this was a huge mistake.
Renay: Okay, well, make your list, do your worst, and I will choose one.
Renay: But I get to choose the book from the list.
Ana: That’s fine. I’ll include some of her adult novels, too.
Renay: All right, so, since you’ve read so many of her book, where would say that Howl’s falls for you on the ranking on by her you’ve read? Where would you put it?
Ana: It’s still my favorite. Maybe because it’s the first one, but it’s right up there with Deep Secret and the Chrestomanci series. There is only one book by her that I’ve read and didn’t love, and I know it’s a favorite of so many of her fans and I’m even scared to say which one it is because maybe I’ll lose some cred.
Renay: No no no no no. You have to say it now.
Ana: Okay, it’s Fire and Hemlock.
Renay: See, I knew that one. I don’t KNOW it. I haven’t read it. Let’s be clear. I’ve just heard of it.
Ana: Do you know who loves it? Ana. I know that she talks a lot about it. A lot of other people love that one, too.
Renay: So that’s definitely why I know that title. Ana from Things Mean A Lot is a huge proponent for Diana Wynne Jones. In fact, I’m pretty sure that’s why I read Howl’s Moving Castle to begin with.
Ana: Well, that’s true of me, too.
Renay: Ana’s influencing us from beyond. Somewhere she’s like, “Why is my nose is itching?”
Ana: Yeah no, always, yeah. Some of my favorite books have been—well, Terry Pratchett too, I read because of Ana.
Renay: SItting here thinking, all of the fantasy books that I would never have picked up on my own and picked up because of her. Howl’s Moving Castle by Diana Wynne Jones, Chime by Franny Billingsley—PS guys if you haven’t read Chime by Franny Billingsley you need to get on that right now. Just don’t pay attention to the cover, I know it’s going to look a little weird, especially if you are in America.
Renay: I don’t know if you’ve seen the American paperback cover, Ana.
Ana: It’s awful.
Renay: The hardback cover was not the greatest for suggesting what’s in the book—
Ana: I liked it.
Renay: —but I also thought it got the tone.
Renay: And now I’m just convinced that people don’t pick it up because the paperback cover is awful.
Ana: Yeah, and that is such one of the most beautiful books ever. Anyway, so Howl’s still up there with my favorite books from her. And Fire and Hemlock’s the one that I didn’t like.
Renay: All right Ana, I’m going to go a little Question Tuesday on you now.
Ana: Oh my god! Okay.
Renay: Okay, if you had a house like Howl’s with a magical door, where would you want the door to open to?
Ana: Well, the first thought that comes to mind I want one to open into my Mum’s house, so that I can see my family more often. Because I only see them once a year so I can just go there whenever I please and play with my niece and see my mum and my sister.
Renay: Aw, this turned into a really sweet question!
Ana: Where would your door open?
Renay: Now anything I say is going to sound terrible and unfeeling, because I live with my mother right now.
Ana: Exactly, so you don’t need to see your mom.
Renay: Probably I would have it open to the largest library in the United States so I could go to it and read whatever I wanted, whenever I wanted, with no restrictions. You can tell I’m very upset about not having access to an academic library. Even though I do have access to an academic library—I have my borrower’s card for the academic library here—but you can only use the journals and stuff, the research materials, via their internet system, and you have to go to the library and log in on these two specific computers, both of which are extremely slow, and it’s just a big hassle. So if I had a magic door that would open me out to a library, that gave me access to all of that without all this rigmarole, I would be super happy! And smart, I would be able to learn so many things! I’m obsessed with learning things. I wanna know everything.
Ana: That’s a worthy pursuit.
Renay: Now I wish I had a magic door. I’ve upset myself with this question.
Ana: I know.
Renay: Okay, well now you know why I gave Howl’s Moving Castle four space bees, but how many space bees would you give it?
Renay: Only five? Not sixteen thousand space bees?
Ana: Five is fine. Five is the whole of my bee army.
Renay: You only have five bees in your army? They must be really tough bees.
Ana: They are so tough. My bees are encased in vibranium armour.
Renay: Nobody ever go to war against Ana! [laughter] That’s dangerous! Well, I’m really glad we got to read and just talk about Howl’s Moving Castle. I think it’s a really great book.
Ana: Me, too.
Renay: If you haven’t read Howl’s Moving Castle I really think you should give it a shot. Even if you are an adult, and you’re just like, “Ugh, kids, fantasy, what?” I still think you should give it a try because it has influenced so many writers. SO many writers that you probably love, and you might find something that you didn’t expect to find there.
Renay: Okay Ana, tell everybody what we’re going to talk about next time.
Ana: Next time it’s going to be our Halloween episode. We’ll be discussing Get Out, the movie, we’ll be discussing Mr Splitfoot, a book, and the super scary discussion topic of putting book reviews on Goodreads and Amazon.
Ana: Thank you so much, Renay, for sharing with me the rereading of one of my favorite books of all time. I really love the chance of being able to reread a book and a book that I actually really do love.
Renay: You’re very welcome. I really enjoyed revisiting this. I think this is going to be probably one of the books that I continue to go back to in the future. It’s a feel-good book.
Ana: And I really want to watch the movie again, too, if only I could find it.
Renay: It’s out there somewhere.
Ana: It has to be online because I don’t have a DVD player.
Renay: Somebody help us.
Ana: If you would like to help choose future topics for Vault episodes you can support us on Patreon. You can also follow us there for episode and transcript announcements.
Renay: Fangirl Happy Hour’s transcripts are by Susan, and you can find all available transcripts at fangirlhappyhour.com. Our show art is by Ira.
Ana: Our music is by Chuki Beats and Boxcat Games.
Renay: Drink some water. Contact your reps. And go tell someone you loved that thing they made.
Ana: And think about it: where would your door open to?
Renay: Thanks for listening, space bees.
Ana: See you next episode.