Friday, March 15, 2013

DWJ March Read-Along: Howl's Moving Castle


Welcome to the Howl's Moving Castle read-along discussion! If you have written your thoughts up on your own site, please share the link in a comment so everyone can come visit.

I thought I would just start the discussion with a few questions. Answer some or all of them -- whatever you feel like doing. I want this to be an easy-going and fun discussion! And, of course, if you have any of your own questions, please add them to the comment string.

1. Was this your first time reading the story or was it a re-read? If it was a re-read, was it better this time (Jenny's Law)?

My answer: I think this was maybe my fourth or fifth time reading Howl. And yes, it was even better this time than any time before. There were more details and character traits that I noticed this time than in my previous readings. I also connected with different characters than in previous readings.

2. What did you think of all of the characters who weren't "themselves" -- Sophie, Howl, Calcifer, the Witch of the Waste, Lettie, Martha, Prince Justin, Wizard Suliman? In fact, which characters, if any, did you think were truly honest? Michael? Fanny? Mrs. Pentstemmon?

My answer: This was the first time that I really thought about this theme. I mean, obviously I thought about Sophie's situation but this might be the first time that I paid attention to this exchange at the end --
"But do you honestly think I don't know my own business well enough not to spot a strong spell like that when I see it? I had several goes at taking it off you when you weren't looking. But nothing seems to work. I took you to Mrs. Pentstemmon, hoping she could do something, but she evidently couldn't. I came to the conclusion that you liked being in disguise."
"Disguise!" Sophie yelled.
Howl laughed at her. "It must be, since you're doing it yourself," he said.
I think there are definitely two sets of disguised characters in the story -- those who want to be something other than what they are and those who only want to be their true selves again.

3. Why does Sophie never really experiment with her powers even after she accepts that she is a witch?

My answer: I have no idea! That was one of the things that really perplexed me this time through. She never tries to do anything specific with her magic except to yell at ferns to become daffodils and even that is pretty random. She never tries to use magic to clean or sew. She will use Calcifer's magic and Michael's spells and Howl's seven-league boots but her own "magic wand" is only used once and that's in a very vague way when she waves it at the WotW's servants. Any other magic that she does is accidental or inadvertent.

4. If the moving castle is the physical embodiment of Howl's "slither-outer"ness, now that he's actually managed to find real love and accomplish a few things, is it time to give up the castle?

My answer: Maybe, but that would be no fun, right?

I'll start with those. Feel free to discuss anything -- Howl's earring, the interchangeability of spells and poetry, the amazing flower garden, the idea of first children having no destiny, what part of yourself you would give a fire demon.

Looking for Howl behind every door,
K

14 comments:

  1. I'll go ahead and answer your questions first.

    1. This is a re-read for me. I've read this book 4-5 times in the past 6 months! I am a serial re-reader at the best of times, but DWJ books lend themselves to it so well, I do always find myself re-reading them several times in quick succession to try to suck all the goodness out of them. I always enjoy a book more on re-read, almost without fail.

    2. It is quite striking when you see everyone who is not “him/herself” listed like that. I feel that Michael is the only character in the book who is exactly what he seems. He is guileless; and therefore, provides a contrast with the many characters around him who all have a cunning plan of some description which they are trying to keep hidden from everyone else. Even Fanny and Mrs. Pentstemmon have their secrets. (Fanny is off galavanting while Sophie is working, even if it's very understandable for her to want to do so. Mrs. Pentstemmon doesn't reveal everything she knows either.)

    3. This is a good question that I've never really considered before. It's not completely true, though. She does quite consciously experiment with her powers with the flowers in the shop. She finds she can keep the flowers fresh by talking to them, and then she talks to them whilst trying different things like planting them in soot and then planting the various roots she finds hanging around. And then she does use her magic very consciously when she tells her stick to whack Miss Angorian in the final confrontation. I think that even though she didn't have any trouble believing she was a witch, her belief that she wouldn't come to anything because of being the eldest stopped her even trying to use her gift in any significant way before then.

    4. I think that finding true love doesn't stop Howl being a slither-outer. It's an intrinsic part of his personality that won't ever really change. He'll still be wanting to slither out of anything unpleasant like say household chores (I imagine) or a week of looking after his son alone while Sophie is off solving a mystery. :) (In fact, when asked to describe Howl near the end of “Castle in the Air”, Sophie says, “He's sly and selfish and vain as a peacock and cowardly and you can't pin him down to anything.” So we can see his slithering tendencies are alive and well.) Plus, the castle is way too cool to just abandon. :)

    And here is my question:
    I always wonder exactly what was going through Howl's mind during the famous green slime tantrum. We know that he wasn't really upset about Lettie, what was he upset about? Had it all just got to be a bit much for him... the search for Suliman and Prince Justin, enchanted Sophie's mysterious presence in his home, his contract and missing heart. I guess he probably did have a lot to be feeling down/stressed about. I also wonder just how much he worked out that evening. I think that night was when he started suspecting that Sophie was really his little grey mouse from May Day. (Thus explaining his much improved mood the next morning.) Also, from that point onwards, he frequently refers to Sophie as “dear” which he never does pre-tantrum. I'm guessing that evening was quite the night of discovery for Howl.

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    1. I think readers who can read the same book in succession are awesome and this is a great book for it. The most I can do is read a book twice in one year.
      I agree with you about Michael. I think he really is the only one who is truly himself. I was on the fence about the other two but, really, Mrs. Pentstemmon is a sorceress which is a dishonest profession in many ways. And yes, Fanny is dishonest to Sophie even though I don't think she means to be (which is what Sophie realizes when Fanny arrives at the castle).
      I did feel like the talking to flowers in the shop was just "what she did" though. It was already her habit to talk to the hats and her stick and everything else even before she knew it was magic. It seemed that when it was revealed as magic she just went "hmm ... really?" and went back to what she would have done anyway. The backyard stuff was a bit of experimenting but it was just plants. I wonder why she never set her sights bigger. :)
      And I never thought about the green slime incident in that way but, you're right, it couldn't have been about Lettie. I'll have to reread the lead-up and think about it a bit more.

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  2. Wow, Lauren, you've got some great points there!

    This is about my zillionth re-reading, but this time I'm reading it aloud to my 9yo, so it's going slowly. I bet I will notice things I didn't notice before--usually I zip through books too fast, so reading aloud is good for me since it forces me to slow down.

    I agree that Howl is a permanent slitherer-outer. He's got a heart now, but that won't cure him. (I totally sympathize with DWJ's bewilderment over girls who want to marry Howl. WHY?)

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    1. I also miss a lot because I read too fast. I think it helped me this time to look more closely since I knew I had to head a discussion. And yes, the more I learn of Howl, the less I want to marry him. :)

      And please share your read-aloud experience when you're done. I'm always on the fence about what age to start DWJ with Z (he'll be 9 in May) so that I make him a fan. I've just finished Archer's Goon though and I think he would love that one right now.

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    2. I'd love to know how it goes too. My oldest is 7, which I think is too young for most DWJ (apart from the two or three written for the quite young). I can't wait to share the wonderful stories with my kids, but I want them to be at the right age when they will get the most out of it. I think they would sort of enjoy some of them now, but wouldn't really appreciate them like they (hopefully) will if we wait a bit longer.

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    3. OK, I will report back. We're only a little way in so it will be a while.

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  3. Nice questions, here's my go:


    1. Was this your first time reading the story or was it a re-read? If it was a re-read, was it better this time (Jenny's Law)?


    1. I regret to say I did not re-read Howl for this event. The last time I "read" it was last year when I listened to Jenny Sterlin's lovely narration. And every time I do read it, all I can think is "Gunnghhh… this is the best book EVER!" So… yes.

    2. What did you think of all of the characters who weren't "themselves" -- Sophie, Howl, Calcifer, the Witch of the Waste, Lettie, Martha, Prince Justin, Wizard Suliman? In fact, which characters, if any, did you think were truly honest? Michael? Fanny? Mrs. Pentstemmon?

    2. To be honest I never thought much of it as I read the book: I was too interested in the story. Looking back, however, I think it applies to our world rather well: most people are not the people they present as; we all have hidden nooks and crannies to our characters—and sometimes we have nasty things in there. Just the same, someone can appear unattractive at first sight, but turn out to be a real hero on the inside.

    3. Why does Sophie never really experiment with her powers even after she accepts that she is a witch?

    3. I'm with Lauren on this one: I think the experimenting with the flowers and making the pregnant mandrake root and certainly the weed killer we just that--experiments! That Sophie didn't go off and apply her magic to things like cooking and cleaning… well, look at what happened to the flowers! Maybe Sophie, with her experience of magic gone wrong, knew better than to try out her newly realized powers on the important stuff--that is, until she had to to save her friends. And again, as Lauren said, I think Sophie's thoughts of being a failure because she's the eldest really hold her back.

    4. If the moving castle is the physical embodiment of Howl's "slither-outer"ness, now that he's actually managed to find real love and accomplish a few things, is it time to give up the castle?

    4. That's an interesting idea… but I don't know if it is. I think the moving castle is more a representation of how he'd like to be seen: menacing and aloof, and a bit scary. But really, I think the castle is an embodiment of Calcifer: it's Calcifer who runs it, after all, and Calcifer who uses it to defeat the Lubbock in House of Many Ways.

    As long as Howl and Calcifer have each other, they will have the moving castle.

    Here's what I wonder, and I'm hoping as many people as possible will answer this:

    How do YOU imagine the moving castle to look? Does it have legs and walk about, like in the movie? Or does it float? Or does it just go grinding off over the turf?

    Myself, I've always seen it in my head as a square building with four tall turrets that floats a few feet off the ground, with the bottom stones kind of rolling around like a tractor tread and stretching out behind… as shown in this picture.

    My rave review of HMC, which K kindly linked to earlier, can be found here.

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    1. I've always seen it as huge and roundish, with menacing towers on four not-quite-corners, and the stones grinding together as they sort of jounce along the ground. Any floating is minimal--it bends the grass but doesn't squash it flat. Although I love the movie castle as a castle, it isn't *Howl's* castle at all to me.

      I loved your watercolor by the way! I'd hang that up on the wall! I like the tiny little figures running after it.

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    2. I guess that the castle in my head is a sort of mixture of the two because I saw the film first. It's certainly less "bird-like" than the film one but to imagine it as a totally stark block with just four towers seems weird too. I like your idea of tractor treads because just softly hovering like a balloon seems not right. It seems that anything that Calcifer has a hand in has to be a bit more powerful!

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    3. That is an excellent point about the castle being an embodiment of Calcifer. It's easy to forget that he and Howl built the castle together and it takes both of them to keep it going with Calcifer definitely seeming to play the key role in it. The fact that it's made of something like coal and shaped like a chimney definitely points to him and not Howl. The Witch of the Waste's castle was made out of what looked like stacked up chimney pots, suggesting her fire demon had a large hand in it as well.

      Even though I saw the film first, I picture it like it was described in the book... quite a lot like your picture, but maybe a bit taller and skinnier. I love how in the book when Sophie approaches it, she notices that "...chill breathed off these blocks..." Howl and Calcifer definitely wanted it to be as off-putting and sinister as possible! I have always imagined it moving in a very undignified way, just sort of bumping along with all it's bricks rubbing together impossibly.

      I do love the ingenuity of the film castle, even though it will never be the "right" one to me. Ages ago, I read a blogpost about the fairytale influences in HMC, and the author pointed out that the story in many ways is a slight inversion of Eastern European folk tale, Baba Yaga. In that story, the witch's house stands on chicken legs. It was a nice touch that Miyazaki put his version of Howl's castle on chicken legs too!

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  4. I've posted my answers at my blog, Kristen! :D Here is the link: http://birdbrainbb.net/2013/03/16/readalong-howls-moving-castle-dwjmarch/

    In response to Goldeen's question: when I first read the book, I used to picture it moving around like a big hovercar or something. Now, having seen the movie, I can't get the version with legs out of my mind. I LIKE the legs, actually! They make more sense to me than a hovercastle. Plus the movement is a lot more fun if it's on legs-- creepier, too, I think, since it gives the castle more of a person-like feeling to it. (Movie!castle also has a face, now that I think about. CREEPY.)

    - Anastasia @ Birdbrain(ed) Book Blog

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    1. It's definitely a tough visual to shake. It makes a bit more sense than hovering so I think it sticks with you. The face, however, is something I could do without. It is definitely creepy. :)

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  5. This was my first read and my goodness, why have I not read this book sooner?!? I finished it a couple of nights ago and the story is still swirling around in my head. I am going to continue to think about it and then write up a few things on my blog for next week. I'm still trying to wrap my mind around everything. And, you know, I don't even remember Howl's earring!! This is definitely one I need to re-read!

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    1. This is definitely one of those books that stick with you long after you turn the last page. The world is so rich that you feel as if you had really been there, right? I am so incredibly happy that you loved this book. I've wanted you to read it for so long now. :)

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