Diana Wynne Jones’ beautiful rendition of Howl’s Moving Castle, a Studio Ghibli film I have enjoyed several times with my sons, suffered from comparison.
Miyazazi Hayao (the elder Miyazaki at Ghibli) has the advantage of order here. His version is canonical to me. Jones’ more complicated plot evokes most of the locations and characters of the film, but I can’t remember them as well as I can the ones from the film.
Maybe the problem is that I was reading the book aloud to my sons at bedtime, over a two-week period. I struggled against sleep (I’m a very good sleeper, despite lack of practice), against distraction (I’m coaching soccer now, too, and needed to climb a steep learning curve there, as well as attending training sessions and evening meetings), and against my own involvement with narratives as an editor with a messy desk in a messy office.
Whatever the cause, the result is that I remember Miyazaki’s plot from Howl’s Moving Castle, and not Jones’.
For the first half of the book or so, this is not a problem. The plot matches closely, and the differences are of sequence or degree more than of kind. For instance, Sophie’s cleaning spree inside the castle occurs in a different order in the book, but it covers much of the same ground. In fact, however much I love the film’s version of Howl’s absurdly messy bathtub, the book’s version is much richer, more interesting, and significant.
The real problem is that I can’t get the images and connections from the movie out of my head. The nightmarish vision of what’s happening out through the black door – aerial bombardment of unknown, distant cities – sticks with me, and I expect it to come back in another form in the novel, but it doesn’t. In the novel, the black door goes to Wales, which is mostly peaceful, except for a well-disguised arch-nemesis. The significance and symbolism are totally different. The black door leads to Howl’s greatest challenge in each case, but the difference is as great as the origin of the fire demon, and the character of the ending, in each form of the story.
For purists, the best thing would be to read Jones’ book first, and then perhaps its sequel, before watching the movie. For people who have great concentration and visualization skills, any order would be fine. The only wrong thing to do would be to avoid either one.