While the Studio Ghibli movie “Howl’s Moving Castle” is known and loved by many, far fewer know that the story originated as a children’s novel by Welsh author Diana Wynne Jones.
The movie and book share a lot but, ultimately, feature some pretty hefty differences. Don’t worry, Sophie and Howl’s love story stays true no matter which version of “Howl’s Moving Castle” you know, but their dynamic changes a lot.
1. There is no war.
While the movie version of Howl is constantly off fighting in a war, in the book, that war doesn’t exist at all. Howl actually spends most of his time in the book avoiding things like wars and, if one popped up, he’d run away from it for sure.
Most of Howl’s free time in the book is spent trying to woo girls, giving him his reputation for stealing hearts.
2. Howl’s real name is Howell Jenkins, and he’s from 1980s Wales.
Yes, that’s right. In the book, Welshman Howell Jenkins finds a path between worlds and starts a life studying magic as Howl Pendragon in Sophie’s land. In Sophie’s magical world, Howl is renown as a powerful wizard.
However, back in Wales, he plays rugby and isn’t considered very accomplished. At one point in the book, he visits his family in Wales, and both takes Sophie and his apprentice, Michael, which leads right into the next difference…
3. Markl is named Michael, and he takes care of the castle when Howl neglects it.
Prim and proper, Michael helps Howl with the castle and keeps things running in exchange for training in magic. Throughout the story, Michael helps Sophie learn more about how Howl’s moving castle works, and Michael helps keep Howl sane — or, well, saner. He keeps track of the finances and makes sure rumors about the wizard don’t get too out of hand.
4. Sophie has a third sister named Martha.
Being the “eldest of three” actually causes Sophie a lot of anxiety in the book, as it’s considered bad luck. Lettie goes to study magic and Martha works at the bakery. The two are both headstrong and determined to determine their own destinies. They urge Sophie to do the same, even when Sophie is sure her only destiny is to work in the hat shop forever. Diana Wynne Jones has even said that part of the inspiration for “Howl’s Moving Castle” came from being the eldest herself and feeling like that barred her from being the hero in a fairy tale. She wrote “Howl’s Moving Castle” so that little girls like her would see that they can be the hero of their own fairy tales no matter who they are or where they come from.
5. Sophie doesn’t change age based on her emotions.
In the book, the curse of the Witch of the Waste is pretty absolute, and there’s no slow reversal. At the very end of the book, the curse is lifted, but until then, Sophie is 90-years-old throughout. In fact, until the very end, Sophie doesn’t think Howl knows about her curse at all, since she can’t talk about it and she looks like a normal old lady.
6. Sophie is a witch herself.
Though she doesn’t realize it until much later in the story, Sophie was a witch from the beginning, starting by talking magic into the hats she trimmed as she told them what the person under them would be like.
In fact, in the book, her proclivity to magic is why the Witch of the Waste targets her to begin with. In fact, while Sophie still believes that Howl doesn’t know about her curse, Howl thinks that Sophie knows she’s a witch and is maintaining the curse herself, just because she likes it.
7. Howl doesn’t turn into a bird.
Howl is heartless through most of the book just like he is in the movie. However, that doesn’t lead to transformations into an avian creature.
Instead of a shift in physical form, Howl’s heartlessness is shown through his restlessness in the story and his connection with Calcifer. While he is cursed by the Witch of the Waste, birds don’t enter into it.
8. Sophie keeps her hair, and it’s red.
Calcifer’s own magic is powerful enough for him to move the castle without any extra help — outside of Howl’s heart, that is. Sophie’s hair isn’t mentioned much at all in the book, except after Howl complains that his hair is a hideous shade of red after being accidentally dyed, and Sophie remarks that the new color is very close to her natural shade.
9. There’s a flower shop.
After the Witch of the Waste finds the last place Howl used as a base, he uses magic to open a different door in the castle to a house in a different town. While he’s busily preparing the spell, he asks Sophie for suggestions about where to put the new portal, saying he’s too busy to think of any. She says she’s always wished to own a flower shop instead of a hat shop, and to put the castle portal there. Howl later reveals that he wanted Sophie to stay and be happy, and that’s why he asked for her opinion in the first place. Sophie does happily set up the flower shop.
And now for a bonus, one of the biggest similarities: Yes, Howl has that same green-slime tantrum over his hair dyes in both versions of the story. A lot may change, and Howl may have a war to fight in the movie, but he’s still the same Howl who spends two hours in the bathroom every morning and thinks life isn’t worth living if you have the wrong hair dye.
Both movie and book are masterpieces in their respective fields, and both are timeless classics. As far as adaptations go, it could be a lot worse! The themes and the most important parts of the main characters stay intact, and the movie is visually breathtaking. Whether you read the book or watched the movie first, the other of those is worth a try, as long as you remember to let each one stand on its own, and don’t spend the whole time comparing the two.