The book that I will never grow out of
By Elizabeth Flux
When I was five I pictured life as an adult to be very, very serious. There would be spectacles. There would be stern expressions. I would have enthusiasm for things like finance and vegetables, and for some reason my mind’s eye always dressed me in a smart, but very ‘90s suit.
Instead, I am 23, I just had cereal for dinner, and haven’t read anything about double entry book-keeping since year 12. While yes, I am wearing spectacles, it’s mostly to stop me from getting a headache while Facebooking and watching Stargate.
About two months ago I moved to Melbourne. It was a serious, adult move, with serious adult responsibilities. I sat in my room, ruthlessly culling things from my pack list, but in-between the jumpers, scarves, chargers and recipes for pancakes, I found myself making room for Howl’s Moving Castle.
Written by Diana Wynne Jones, the book was first published in 1986. It is, I’m fairly certain, aimed at people around the age of 12 which is about how old I was when I came across it in the school library during one of the torturous breaks between Harry Potter book releases. I picked it up because I was already a fan of the author. I borrowed it because this was before the Miyazaki movie of the same name was released and the unfamiliar title seemed like a crime against grammar. I was intrigued.
Also it had a pretty cover.
Since then the book has been pretty much a staple in my life. I’m older. I’ve matured (though not in the extreme way I had imagined for myself). Yet, in between all the adult responsibilities, serious reading, and, fine, books targeted at my actual age, there is still always room for Howl’s Moving Castle. I read it at least once a year.
I’m not 100% sure why. It’s a story about a young woman, Sophie, who is magically aged by a witch due to a case of mistaken identity. She takes refuge in the home (a moving castle) of a wizard (Howl) rumoured to eat the hearts of young girls; adventures and flower shops ensue. The plot is complex, and intricate; and much better than the film – which, while great as a film, is bad as an interpretation of the book.
Diana Wynne Jones died last year. I didn’t find out until months later when I was looking her up to see if she had written any more in the Chrestomanci series. She received virtually no press, which is particularly depressing given how easily news can spread on the internet.
To me, Howl’s Moving Castle is more than simply retreating in to the familiar. As I get older, I get different things from it. At 12, there were wizards. At 15, there was an unconventional love story. At 19 there was commentary on finding your path in life. I honestly believe, that not only will I be reading it at 80, but I will be seeing it from a different perspective yet again. As much as I might love it, I don’t get that kind of evolution from Harry Potter.
When she isn’t updating her blog: www.haroldiscool.wordpress.com, she’s locking herself in the warden’s office playing The Marriage of Figaroover the prison loudspeakers.