In Which Katie and Talia Read Howl's Moving Castle

Katie Hopkins & Talia Moodley
August 30, 2022

Howl’s Moving Castle by Dianna Wynne Jones, later adapted into the iconic Studio Ghibli movie, is probably one of the weirdest books we’ve ever read. This conversation follows our real-time reactions to reading this whirlwind of a book, five chapters at a time.

When it was put on the August Fantasy booklist, along with other stars of the fantasy genre, we were both excited and apprehensive. We were excited because we are both fans of the fantasy genre, though we tend to consume it in different ways. While Katie approaches the genre from a very analytical view, Talia prefers to be swept up in the story. The apprehension leaking in to stain that excitement had to do with our love for the Studio Ghibli adaptation. We both had concerns coming in about whether reading the book would ruin the movie. From the other side, we can say that reading the book was certainly something, but we are satisfied that our love for the movie will remain intact.

Fellow fans of the movie beware: this book contains many characters and events that even we were confused about, so if you haven't read it yet, continue at your own peril. Please also be warned that we discuss all the events of the book in great detail, and if you want to avoid spoilers, this is not the place to be. If you don’t care about spoilers or you’ve already read the book, enjoy!

Post divider.

Chapters 1–5: A familiar-but-different fairy tale land

Talia: I read these five chapters just before the meeting started, so it's fresh in my mind.

Katie: It’s easy to read and way faster than I thought. For some reason, I thought it was going to be a super dense, intense fantasy.

Talia: The narration feels sort of like you're listening to an oral fairy tale or something like that.

Katie: Yes. That is exactly what I was thinking. It's very, very fairy tale. It feels like– You know those inverted fairy tales? It feels like that but not quite.

Talia: I see what you mean.

Katie: ‘Cause it's playing on all the fairy tale tropes, so it’s like an inverted inverted fairy tale.

Talia: Did you just invent a new genre?

Katie: I know.

Talia: She's not on the Literary Society committee for nothing. So, all I knew about Howl’s Moving Castle before starting the actual book was the Ghibli movie, obviously. And I had seen memes comparing Howl from the book to Howl from the movie. Have you read the book before or did you know anything about it?

Katie: No, I'm pretty much the same as you. I saw the Ghibli movie. I saw, like, one or two memes. That’s . . . it.

Talia: And the memes that I saw were so wildly different. One was like, ‘Oh yeah, book Howl is so much better – there’s more personality,’ and the other was like, ‘I hate book Howl.’ I stayed away from this book purposely ‘cause I was scared. I thought I would either hate it because I like the movie, or I’d read it and then like it better than the movie. I don’t know. I just love that movie. I didn’t want anything to *laughs* interfere.

Katie: I was kind of the same. I was thinking, ‘I don't want this to ruin the movie.’ But I feel like, from what I've read so far, I don't think it will. They feel very different. I feel like they're just both going to be good individually.

Talia: That's the best situation. When the adaptation can be its own thing and be good, and it doesn't stuff up the way you see the source material.

Katie: Yeah, for sure. It moved a lot faster than I thought. ‘Cause I feel like the start of the movie feels like it goes for a while, but then the book doesn't. Kind of everything happens.

Talia: In just that first chapter, I got told so much information, and I was just mentally trying to log it away.

Katie: I actually love that first chapter. It was so fun. It was very self-aware fairy tale. Like, ‘Oh these are the three sisters and that means that the eldest one has to do this.’

Talia: I like that, even though it was very much using those archetypes, it didn't make the three sisters – who I think have a really cool bond – caricatures of, like, femininity. I feel like a lot of books have the classic tomboy sister versus the stuck-up princess sister.

Katie: Actually, that's so true. They kept using the archetypes, but they didn't restrict it. They made them all– I felt like they had personalities.

Talia: Even the sister that knew that she wanted to have, like, ten babies *both laughing* and get married – it came off as ‘fuck the patriarchy still though’.

Katie: It was like, ‘Oh I've been told to do this, but you know what? I'm going to have ten babies.’

*both laughing*

Katie: And I think it had a really good diversity of values. Like, you had the one sister who wanted to study and then one who just wanted to have lots of babies and then Sophie who kind of felt like she had a duty to do something. That is really broad.

Talia: Yeah. I didn't expect them to be anything more than flat cutouts of characters, to be honest.

Katie: I mean, Sophie's the main character, but the other ones I thought would be in there for two seconds and, I don't know, say something plot-relevant and then disappear.

Talia: Pretty much. I mean, ‘cause that's kind of what happens in the movie.

Katie: *laughing* It is. It is, really. But one thing I think the movie did really well with the book is how, in the book, with the sister who works in the bakery, all the guys love her and they're just constantly interrupting her. And then the movie keeps that really well. Like, even though all the guys are friendly, she's always got a man trying to get her attention.

Talia: That felt very faithful. I also thought it was really interesting how Sophie's kind of an unreliable narrator. ‘Cause at the beginning I was thinking, okay, this family's dynamic is this way. And then – I think it was Martha in disguise as Lettie – she was like, ‘You don't know. What are you talking about?’

Katie: Literally. That was really fun because it just totally subverts how you see the actions that already happened. And the other thing I was not prepared for was Michael being a teenager.

Talia: I was expecting this tiny kid.

Katie: And in the book, they describe him as really tall and lanky. And I'm like, ‘No, I will still see him as a five-year-old, actually.’

Talia: I feel like also, um, I wasn't about the way Sophie and Howl met in the book. He came off as kind of creepy, I’m not going to lie.

Katie: Yeah . . . yeah. I find it really interesting that in the book he's doing exactly what he stops other guys from doing in the movie. Like the specific phrase, I think it's ‘little mouse’ or something – the creepy guys use that in the movie and he uses that in the book. Like, not a fan, actually.

Talia: His fashion’s still on point though.

Katie: Oh yeah. Of course. His defining characteristic.

Talia: I felt like Calcifer’s personality was very much the same.

Katie: It feels very, very similar. He's really fun.

Talia: Definitely. Like when Sophie was berating him into leaning over so that she could cook on him.

Katie: Absolutely. And that part was very similar to the movie as well–  I don’t know if you can tell, but I have seen the movie, like, 700 times.

Talia: Literally, like, it's my Discord icon.

Katie: I was just going to say.

Talia: When I'm feeling sad, it’s my comfort movie.

Katie: Me too. It's so sweet. I like the writing style in the book. It kind of gives me similar vibes.

Talia: It does. I think that sort of fairy tale vibe translates well. The movie has a lot of quiet moments, and I wasn’t sure whether that would be something that happens in the book since it’s a fantasy.

Katie: I'm hoping it will ‘cause a lot of it is about, you know, her learning to not care so much about her looks. And I feel that would be a really good time – the quiet moments in the book – for her to have a lot of introspection and stuff.

Talia: Yeah.

Katie: I don’t know if they’ll do that.

Talia: We’ll see. I didn't understand – I don't think we're supposed to yet though – like, the Witch of the Waste literally just came in, she was like, ‘You’re old now,’ and then she dipped.

*both laughing*

Katie: She was so rude. Like in the movie they had like the bit where she was chasing her before, which made sense. But the book was like, ‘Oh . . . cursed.’

Talia: She did allude to some kind of competition that Sophie was providing. So maybe . . . she also sells hats . . .

Katie: Well, Sophie did still meet Howl earlier, so maybe it was just a response to that. I feel like that's something we're going to find out later.

Talia: Also Howl is so– I feel like he was very unbothered in the movie, but he’s so bothered in this book.  

Katie: I know. He's like, ‘I hate everything.’

Talia: Literally, he's like, ‘Um, don't touch my dirt and also don't touch my spiders. Thank you so much.’

Katie: The ‘not touching the spiders’ is something I will never be able to get behind. Like, get those out of my house.

Talia: The fact that she had to get rid of the cobwebs but not the spiders.

Katie: They’re just gonna build more!

Talia: From the title of the next chapter– What was it? Hold on. *checking the book’s contents* Also, I really love the titles in this. It’s called ‘In which Howl expresses his feelings with green slime’. I’m assuming that’s the part where his hair changes colour.

Katie: I think that's a really good point though. The chapter titles are excellent. They’re very fairy-tale-fantasy. They really have that vibe. I just love books that have fun chapter titles. I think we don't see it enough.

[Note: There is a lot of ableist language used in this book, especially in these first chapters. Please be aware of this if you plan to read it.]

Post divider.

Chapters 6–10: Red flags and green ones

Katie: Genuinely, I'm enjoying this so much. I can read it so fast, just ‘cause it’s such an easy read. Just really very chill.

Talia: It's very relaxing.

Katie: And engaging as well. There’s stuff happening.

Talia: At first I was like, ‘I don't know how much could happen while they're just chilling in a castle,’ but–

Katie: A lot.

Talia: Quite a lot. Speaking of the castle, one of the book covers is a castle with legs and then, obviously, in the movie there's a castle with legs, but it's never actually described as having legs. It just kind of moves.

Katie: I kind of was thinking that as well. They just say that it moves, but  . . .  I don't know, I think the legs idea, like, I like that. It makes it seem more alive.

Talia: I wonder what the author envisioned.

Katie: Yeah, because you hear a lot about the inside description but not a lot about the outside at all.

Talia: Also, um, Howl wanting to pursue all these girls that he's apparently fallen in love with and then, like, immediately dropping them once he's got them.

Katie: I know. I don't really know how to feel about that.

Talia: Like, why are you so trash? I’m wondering if it’s because his heart is missing?

Katie: That's kind of what I was thinking as well. He doesn't have a heart, so like, I guess you could kind of say that when he's pursuing all these girls he's chasing the feeling of having a heart. And when he realises he’s not going to get it, he gives up.

Talia: I like that interpretation. I mean, if that's wrong, then he's just really a giant walking, talking red flag.

*both laughing*

Katie: I know.

Talia: I like – I think it was apparent in chapter ten especially – the way Howl and Sophie just snipe at each other in this really polite way, but it's, like, barely concealed loathing.

Katie: I love their relationship so much. They get along so well in that they hate each other. Their interactions are all perfect. And I love that Sophie, this entire book, is just like, ‘I hate everyone. Everyone's such an asshole except me.’

Talia: Sophie does no self-reflection at all.

Katie: I feel like that’s everyone in the book. No one has any sense of self-awareness.

Talia: I think it's pretty interesting that the author chooses to have you go through an entire chapter of Sophie or someone else behaving really weirdly. And then in the next chapter, they’ll sit down and be like, ‘Maybe that was kind of not a good day for me.’

Katie: Yeah, absolutely. It's incredibly entertaining. There’s such strong characterisation. They're all very distinct. I like it a lot.

Talia: Yeah! I'm kind of worried that . . . I don't want to read a love triangle, so I'm just hoping that's not what this is.

Katie: I know. When they brought in Sophie’s sister as Howl’s newest pursuit . . . Firstly, when I read that I was about to go to sleep, and I was like, ‘Um, no, actually I’m going to read for another hour.’ I saw that and I just thought, ‘Oh, this has potential to go wrong. In so many ways.’ But, I don't know, I trust in the author.

Talia: Okay, that’s good.

Katie: Give it the benefit of the doubt for the moment. I'm trying to figure out – ’cause it's all fairy tale tropes – so in a fairy tale, what would happen there? But I can’t really tell–

Talia: Someone would cut off their toes to fit their foot into a shoe.

Katie: True. I think it's so random how Michael and Howl are going off with the sisters. ‘Cause I always see Michael as a lot younger, but then the sisters were quite similar ages. I don’t know. That age gap is a bit weird.

Talia: Yeah~ I can’t actually remember what their ages were.

Katie: I loved how Lettie and Martha did this whole disguise-swap-places-thing. And then, um, the witch–

Talia: Oh yeah. Mrs Fairfax, I think, was her name.

Katie: She saw through it instantly.

Talia: I love how that wasn't a point of conflict though. She was just like, ‘If you want to learn, I'll teach you.’

Katie: I thought that was nice.

Talia: It was giving a lot of grandmother energy.

Katie: Just, like, women supporting women.

*both laughing*

Talia: It’s been a while since we read the first five chapters, so it spun my head a little that the King’s brother is missing and then there’s a missing wizard too. Am I’m like, ‘Is either one of them the scarecrow?’

Katie: Also the scarecrow was way scary.

Talia: Literally!

Katie: He was really creepy.

Talia: Why was he doing horror movie jumpscares?

Katie: Actually horrifying.

Talia: To the point where Howl was like, ‘You’re actually creeping me out now.’

Katie: If you're creeping Howl out that's quite important.

Talia: And it took a lot of effort to get rid of him too.

Katie: So that’s quite powerful as well. Powerful magic. I really want to see where they go with that. I get the enemies-to-lovers thing Howl and Sophie are doing, but the scarecrow’s just so random.  

Talia: And then there’s the nothing that they go into at the end of chapter ten. What’s up with that? Is that Howl’s soul?

Katie: There's just so much like weird, weird, strange stuff.

Talia: I'm waiting to see how it's all connected.

Katie: I feel like it's going to be really good when it all comes together.

Talia: You know what was so depressing? That falling star.

Katie: I know! Oh my gosh, that was so sad.

Talia: At first she described its eyes. It had big eyes and a pointy face. And I was like, ‘Oh, that's so cute!’ And then it was like, ‘I wanna die.’

Katie: I was not prepared for that, actually. I thought the falling star was going to be, like, a crystal or something. It was literally alive.

Talia: And then, obviously, that has something to do with why Howl is the way he is. ‘Cause he caught a falling star. And Sophie just, at that point, didn’t care. Calcifer was like, ‘That’s your hint,’ and Sophie was like, ‘I’m actually busy right now, sorry.’

Katie: Actually talking about those hints though. I think that's really fun that Calcifer’s like, ‘Oh, I’m giving you a hint.’ But it’s like . . . where?

Talia: I feel so not smart ‘cause I’m like, ‘Calcifer, what are you talking about?’

Katie: But I feel like that's going to be really fun. Like, if I read it again, I'll be like, ‘Oh, that’s the hint!’

Talia: I also find the way the spells work really interesting. They’re sort of like an equation, and there are parts that are deliberately misleading, and part of the spell is figuring it out.

Katie: Yeah, for sure. That's tickling the puzzle-solving part of my brain.

Talia: *laughs* The puzzle-solving part of my brain is nonexistent. I could relate so hard when there was that excerpt of Sophie’s notes, and they were just, like, nonsensical. Like, just useless. I was like, ‘Is this me in any tutorial?’

Katie: Oh, actually so true. Like with those notes, everything about that whole chapter just felt incredibly realistic. I would also get frustrated and give up very quickly and start saying random things. I've just thought all the characters are very realistic.

Talia: The way they were sitting at the table together, just attempting to figure the spell out. Sophie and Michael.

Katie: Yeah, that's really sweet. I actually really like Michael and Sophie's relationship.

Talia: Same. Found family let’s go~

Katie: Yes, absolutely. Literally my favourite trope.

Talia: And Calcifer’s kind of, like, the reluctant uncle.

Katie: He’s like, ‘Why are you all here, but also never leave.’

Talia: When Sophie and Michael were going out with the seven league boots– They are very cool, by the way. Can I please have some?

Katie: I know.

Talia: And Calcifer was like, all of a sudden, ‘don’t go!’ He flared up, and I was wondering if it was a found family moment or a plot point that I should be paying attention to?

Katie: I feel like this is such a good story because it could be either. I feel like half of these are important plot points that we are not going to understand until we finish all of it.

Talia: And then the other half is just, like, let's have fun.

Post divider.

Chapters 11–15: Welsh . . . rugby?

Talia: I was really not prepared for Howl to be some dude from Wales. Like– *laughs*

Katie: That is wild.

Talia: Called ‘Howell’ or something like that.

Katie: He's just, like, literally the most basic white man.

Talia: For real! He’s got, like, his WELSH RUGBY jersey on.

Katie: That was so random. So, I cannot figure that out. Is that a multiverse thing or is it time travelling?

Talia: At first I was wondering if Sophie was in the past, but then her reality has magic and stuff. ‘Cause Howl’s family in Wales *laughs* doesn’t seem to have any grasp of magic as a real thing.

Katie: They think that he just doesn’t have a job.

*both laughing*

Talia: I just want to know what university Howl went to that let him do his thesis on magic.

Katie: I know. Did he do that in Wales or did he do that in the magic land they’re in?

Talia: I think he literally did it in Wales. That's so random.

Katie: Oh my gosh. That's actually wild.

Talia: And then Sullivan’s also from the normal world?

Katie: I find it really interesting that Sullivan’s come over as well. I haven't quite figured out how that plotline fits in. I feel like there are just a lot of pieces that are going to come together eventually.

Talia: We keep saying ‘eventually’, meanwhile, we're past the 50% mark.

Katie: I know. *laughs* Surely, sometime soon, it will start making sense.

Talia: Every time I read, I’m questioning if my brain is extra fried.

Katie: Everything in this book is just really strange.

Talia: I found it really fitting that Sophie's a witch who has been using magic this whole time, but that’s not something she’s realised until now. Again, what we thought we knew about her is a lie.

Katie: I think it's also so funny that she's just told, ‘Oh, you've been using magic this whole time. You're actually a witch.’ And then she's just like, ‘Oh yeah, that makes sense.’ Absolutely so unfazed.

Talia: It very much fits her character. It’s similar to when Martha was like, ‘Oh, your mum’s not really a great person,’ and Sophie just rolled with it.

Katie: She's just so willing to rearrange her entire understanding of her universe. Someone just says something and she's like, ‘Oh, okay.’

Talia: I didn’t expect Mrs Pentstemmon to have such a short role.

Katie: It really shocked me that she just died. It felt like her character was going to go somewhere and was going to come back. I don't know what to make of the Witch of the Waste. She seems kind of awful, but just in, like, an annoying way.

Talia: Honestly, I kind of want to be her friend, I'm not going to lie. When she was making Sophie climb the stairs twice, I was like, ‘Damn, that's a horrible thing to do. Also, I would probably make my sister do this.’

Katie: Awful person but also incredibly relatable. She’s a fun character.

Talia: She's also described pretty magnificently. Like, what a look.

Katie: I know. Like, actually, what a queen look.

Talia: I hope we get to see more of, like, I don't know. Every other woman that's been introduced so far that has seemed one-dimensional has then been made into something more than a stereotype. So, I hope we get to see more of her in that sense as well.

Katie: Absolutely. And that is such a good point. All the women in this book start out very one-dimensional and then so much depth is added to them, which I think is really fun. I like that.

Talia: ‘Cause I feel that, right now, her motivation being that she’s pissed because Howl jilted her doesn’t fit with the affordances given to every other girl.

Katie: I'm hoping that in the rest of the book her character will be developed a lot, which I think it will. She seemed pretty important to the plot. *Talia laughing in the background* So, I mean, she’s definitely going to come back.

Talia: The plot, which I have no idea about.

Katie: I know. I say it like I know where this is going at all.

Talia: I'm still vibing though.

Katie: It’s interesting because I’m reading this five chapters at a time and waiting until we talk about it to keep reading, but I feel like I could have read it in one sitting. It’s a really easy read. The chapters are short and engaging.

Talia: Yeah, definitely. Also Howl’s room just really scared me. Like, why is there a canopy of spiders above your bed? And why is your bed dusty enough that dust flies off the cover when you move around?

Katie: I expected it to be kind of cluttered and messy, but I was not expecting it to be nasty. No judgement, but I'm judging a little bit.

Talia: I'm judging so much. He was sick in this dusty-ass room. I was like, ‘That’s not going to make you better.’

Katie: No, it's not. I guess he just doesn't have a phobia ‘cause as someone who is scared of spiders, his house terrifies me.

Talia: I know he said that he likes that they ‘try, try and try again’ or whatever, but I'm like please, can we find anything else to make the metaphor work?

Katie: That is foul. Okay, I know Calcifer is physically there, but I feel like he's not doing that much. I kind of wish he was doing more.

Talia: He does just, like, offer commentary every now and again. Makes some bacon . . .

Katie: Exactly. I’m kind of waiting for him to do something more plot-relevant. I guess it’s hard because he literally cannot move.

Talia: And it seems like he can't do anything without alerting Howl? Since they share a power source. At the same time, it would have been nice to see him doing secret shenanigans.

Katie: That would be really fun. Or, like, have a full conversation with Sophie. Even just more banter and stuff. He’s a great character. I just want him to exist more.

Talia: This is true. Um, I really do not understand what is up with the dog.

Katie: No, me neither. I was like, ‘. . . What?’

Talia: I don't know if I read it wrong. The dog said that Lettie sent it, but it’s also not trying to go back to Lettie. Is it supposed to be her spy?

Katie: That kind of confused me as well. ‘Cause, yeah, what I got from that was that he was in love with Lettie as well and didn’t like that she was in love with Howl. But then, like, why would you be doing . . .

Talia: I really don't understand why she sent him because I thought she didn't know who Sophie was in her old form. And then Sophie remarked to herself about how she felt sorry for Lettie because her other lover was a dog most of the time. Sophie, if he’s a dog most of the time, how did Lettie supposedly fall in love with him?

Katie: Oh no. I didn’t think about that. That’s concerning.

*both laughing*

Katie: Moving on.

Talia: Swiftly.

Katie: I'm hoping – I know we've said this every single time – I'm really hoping it's all going to start making sense soon.

Talia: We have, like, six more chapters for this to make sense.

Katie: Oh. Surely it will all make sense.

Talia: Surely. I love saying that as things get progressively more unlikely to make sense.

Katie: Or it can just be the weirdest, strangest book you've ever read, which would be cool too.

Talia: Just like vibes and a strange time.

Katie: What a great way to describe it.

Talia: This is not relevant to the plot at all, but this really just makes it apparent to me how long ago the writer was writing this in England or wherever she’s from for, like, a very white European audience – she’ll describe characters as ‘dark’ or ‘black’, and I really don’t think she means brown skin. And I’m like, ‘You’re confusing me here. You’re really confusing me.’

Katie: I have noticed that as well. There are many shades of white.

Talia: 50 shades of white.

Katie: When was this published? I didn’t realise it was that long ago.

Talia: That's a good question. I'm about to Google this.

Katie: Oh wait. I found it. I think it's 1986.

Talia: Oh, actually, that's a lot more recent than I thought it was.

The original book cover.

Katie: It's still 40 years ago.

Talia: That's true. And I think she was an older lady when she wrote it. Maybe. Oh wow. I'm on the Wikipedia page for Howl’s Moving Castle and the picture of Calcifer is really damn scary. If that's what he looks like, I understand why Sophie's kind of terrified all the time.

Katie: *looking up the picture* Oh, I see! That’s terrifying actually.

Talia: My mind still kind of inserts a slightly more detailed version of the movie Calcifer.

Katie: Yes, me too. Wait. I'm just looking at the original cover, and the shadow of Howl is the scarecrow. What's up with that?

Talia: Hold on. That scarecrow is also way more creepy than anything I've pictured.

Katie: I know. That's not what I was imagining.  

Post divider.

Chapters 16–21: Oh yeah, it's all coming together (mostly)

Talia: That was a whirlwind ending.

Katie: I know. So much happened. It was like, everything, one after the other, reveal after reveal.

Talia: I was like, ‘I need to sit down. I need a break.’

Katie: I read the last six chapters in one sitting. I think it would've been better to read one chapter at a time. I feel like you really need to kind of let it sink in for a little bit. It was very fast.

Talia: The fact that it was all revealed that fast made it kind of confusing. I don't know if my brain is all the way off, but I was trying really hard to keep up.

Katie: It took me a solid second to figure out what was going on and think of all of the connections and then kind of put it all together.

Talia: Um, I think it was kind of rushed, I'm not going to lie.

Katie: I feel like the last two or three chapters could've been five or six chapters. There was a lot going on very quickly.

Talia: I mean, at least, after us saying ‘surely it will all come together’, it did.

Katie: It did. Yes. I was not disappointed about that. And I did like the ending. I think it was so nice how Calcifer was set free but chose to stay. And then Sophie’s curse was broken and she didn’t even realise. Again, I think that’s so nice. They all overcame their vanity.

Talia: I really liked that Sophie’s curse was this physical embodiment of the fact that she didn’t feel comfortable sharing her insecurities, even with herself.

Katie: That's a really good point. Near the end, the Witch of the Waste says to Sophie, ‘Oh, you’re doing it to yourself.’ So it then kind of becomes about self-realisation and becoming confident in yourself, which I just think is really cool.

Talia: And we finally saw Sophie do something other than roll with the punches. Like, she was genuinely mad, and she didn’t even understand her own anger. It was just very different to the way she’s accepted everything.

Katie: She did actually so much at the end and, like, ran off. I think it’s really cute how she fully realised she was in love with Howl and then went off to save Miss Angorian – who he was trying to make fall in love with him – anyway.

Talia: Who turned out to be a fire demon that he wasn't even trying to make fall in love with him.

Katie: That was kind of confusing. Like, the fire demon is a person? One question I had: The reason they knew her was because she was Howl’s nephew’s English teacher, so was she just, like, hanging out, doing a day job the whole time? That’s just kind of random.

*both laughing*

Talia: Um, maybe she just started at the beginning of the year or she was the new sub?

Katie: That was just the first thing I thought of.

Talia: That didn’t actually even occur to me.

Katie: It’s so funny to me that the main evil character at the end is a primary school teacher during the day.

Talia: I didn't understand why Howl apparently knew all these things but didn't tell anybody. He was just relying on Sophie being jealous enough not to let Miss Angorian into the house. And I was like, ‘That’s a lot unsafe, Howl.’

Katie: I hadn't even thought of that. Like, I think you're gonna need a more fool-proof plan than that. Maybe Sophie, you know, is just a more mature person than you're giving her credit for and will let Miss Angorian into the house.

Talia: I was trying to think about it in terms of the curse. Is Howl unable to tell Sophie? Because, with all the curses, you can’t tell people stuff, right?

Katie: That's actually a good point. I don't think they really talk about that explicitly. But I guess, impliedly, magic is weird. If Howl can’t tell Sophie what his contract was then maybe if he told Sophie what was actually going on with the fire demon and the witch, that would tell her about his contract too?

Talia: Maybe . . .  

Katie: That’s kind of a stretch.

Talia: *laughs* Yeah. This is turning into a list of things I don’t understand, but I also didn’t understand why Calcifer didn’t just tell Sophie who Miss Angorian really was. I know Howl said that Calcifer wouldn’t give up another fire demon, but Calcifer didn’t even seem to like Miss Angorian at all.

Katie: Um, magical contract stuff, I guess. I was kind of hoping– You know how the end of the movie kind of doesn't make a lot of sense. It just happens. And it's like, okay, cool. I kind of hoped the book would make a lot of sense, but it really . . . the vibes are kind of the same. It’s fun to read and I like it, but what happened?

Talia: It’s a relief that the Witch of the Waste wasn’t just lovesick, even though she crumbled pretty fast anyway.

Katie: I was like, ‘Oh, is that it?’

Talia: Same. But then they introduced the fire demon as the big villain and I accepted it.

Katie: Yeah, I thought that was kind of fun – a bit of misdirection. I thought that they did give the witch a bit of nuance at the end. ‘Cause they were kind of like, ‘Oh, she wasn’t evil, she’s just lost all of her humanity because of the fire demon.’ It doesn’t feel like they destroyed the villain when she dies. It feels like it just kind of had to happen, which is a nuance that I do enjoy in a book.

Talia: Totally. Those are the saddest deaths sometimes. I’m also glad that Fanny wasn’t just the evil stepmum.

Katie: I liked that as well. She came back and then Sophie was actually like, ‘Oh, she's nice.’

Talia: And maybe Martha just has a bit of an intensely skewed opinion. But at the same time, like, Sophie, how did you just go with it so easily?

Katie: Just point her in a direction and she goes that way. It’s nice that her whole family came together, catching up and stuff. They kind of all ended up where they wanted to be, which was really nice.

Talia: I didn't think that we were going to see something like that. I felt like I was reading a fanfic of Howl’s Moving Castle because it was just, like, wish fulfilment. But I was happy.

Katie: Absolutely. Was it Lettie who ended up with Sullivan?

Talia: Yeah.

Katie: I was expecting her to end up with the prince. I was a bit surprised because, in my head, the wizard was always a 40-year-old man.

Talia: The author doesn’t really specify anything at all when it comes to age, but the prince kind of seemed like a dickhead, so it was the right choice for Lettie.

Katie: But also, it was fully a 50/50 decision because their body parts were combined.

Talia: With the body parts thing, I really didn’t expect it to be so R-rated. All these body parts being taken off and put together.

Katie: I was like, ‘Oh, okay. We’re going here, I guess.’ I really did like the thing where Sophie could talk life into objects and got more powerful gradually as the book went on. I thought that was very cool.

Talia: It kind of parallels her understanding of herself too, which is nice.

Katie: Yeah, absolutely. Like, she doesn't know she can do it at all. Then she gains a little bit of knowledge as she's gaining confidence. Then right at the end, her curse is broken and she has full control of it, which is really neat.

Talia: It’s so amusing how, along the way, her enchantments are driven by her stubborn will. She just vents her frustration on things, putting magic into them unconsciously.

Katie: So much of it is out of spite. She’s annoyed and sarcastic and makes things come alive. I actually really enjoyed that. Like, the protagonist was so driven by negative emotions, and then at the end, still gets a positive happy ending.

Talia: Though I felt like Howl and Sophie’s romantic relationship came out of nowhere, it was very cute  – the way they got together.

Katie: I was thinking the same thing. There wasn't as much build-up to it as I was hoping for. But then at the end, when all their friends were talking to them and they were fully completely unaware – that was so cute.

Talia: They were just smiling at each other. And the dialogue during that part was so fitting because they were still kind of, like, sniping at each other while they were confessing.

Katie: I don't know if your version of the book had this, but mine had an interview with the author at the end. *Talia starts checking her copy because she didn’t bother looking past the final chapter* One of the questions was about what happens in the future. And her answer was that Sophie and Howl have, like, three arguments a day.

*both laughing*

Katie: But it makes sense.

Talia: I hope that they just both enjoy the arguing.

Katie: I feel like they would. I do think that they were very, very strong characters. I loved the amount of personality and how distinct they all were. That was done so well.

Talia: I've just seen one of the answers to one of the questions at the back of the book, which was, ‘Are any of the characters based on real people?’ And the author said, ‘People always hope that Howl is real. There are cues and cues of young ladies all over the world who want to marry him. I always think that they'd be in for a difficult life if they did.’

Katie: I just agree with everything. Yes, I too would marry him. And yeah, that would also be a bad decision.

Talia: It would be. I'd make it though. I also wanted to say that I really liked the flower garden at the edge of the Waste. I just really want to go sit in it.

Katie: Oh yes. Oh my gosh. Me too. That sounded so beautiful. And, actually, I liked that they got time to live with all the flowers. They were there for quite a while by the sounds of it.

Talia: I was going to say that the whole domestic environment where they're operating a flower shop and doing daily things is very nice.

Katie: It's so cute. In the movie, with that section, it doesn't– Movies are weird because time skips are hard, but it feels like they're not really there for that long. But in the book, they just live like that, which is so cute. They’re just settled and living their best lives.

Talia: And, like, that's the goal. I like when books show the group, the main cast, in those situations because it makes me really root for them to get back to that after the trauma hits.

Katie: It's like, we've seen what could possibly be and we want that to happen again. It gives us a goal for them.

Talia: I think that a mistake that a lot of people make with books or movies or stories in general is that, like, it's just sadness the whole way through. And I'm like, ‘Well, you didn't even tell me why I should want these people to be around each other.’

Katie: Yeah, actually, that is such a good point. And, like, the characters in this story are not nice. They're not characters that I like as people.

Talia: Highly flawed.

Katie: But I still really want them to be happy. There are some books where the characters are unlikable, and like, that's it. I don't actually care about them. This one kind of makes them unlikable in a lovable way.

Katie: I said at the start that I was worried about it ruining the experience of the movie for me, but it absolutely did not. Like, not even one bit. It was very different and that helped. And it was just really good in its own way, so I could appreciate both of them.

Talia: I love it when a work and its adaptation don't interfere with each other. Both have their good qualities and maybe shortcomings, but you can enjoy both.

Katie: I think that's a really good point. Neither of them are perfect, but they're also very individual pieces. They kind of complement each other and are also very different. I loved it. I fully could have read that in one sitting.

Talia: Same, definitely. Although . . . then maybe the ending would've been a bit more intense than it already was.

Katie: *laughing* It would've been a bad idea to read it in one sitting.