When the Movie is Better Than the Book - Howl’s Moving Castle

Posted on December 15, 2021

Like most readers, I tend to find that adaptations pale in comparison to the original work. There’s just no perfect way to adapt a full-length novel into a maximum 2-hour screenplay, to condense hours of detail and reader experience into the film format in a way that is completely satisfying is nearly impossible. That being said, it can be done and one of my favourites is Miyazaki’s adaptation of Diana Wynne Jones’ novel, Howl’s Moving Castle. Now, is it perhaps a tad tacky to be judging a children’s book for not having the same emotional depth nor high stakes as its movie counterpart? Absolutely, however, I’m doing it anyway because I love this movie. I will say this is likely completely and entirely biased, as I watched the film maybe 1000 times before I ever got my hands on a copy of the novel, however, I think my thoughts on this hold. 

Image Credit: The Guardian

First, the book is good. I’m not arguing otherwise. It’s a totally enjoyable read! But oh my god it’s nothing like the movie, and I have to say the changes Miyazaki made make the story so compelling for audiences of all ages. On the other hand, Diana Wynne Jones’s novel is very clearly intended for children and only children. What I mean by this is that the novel is very…clean. It feels like a trip on the magic school bus, it’s fun and goofy with the same loveable characters but there’s not much to bring me back to it other than maybe nostalgia if I had grown up reading it. (Oh, and Howls characterization, seeing him as a total drama queen without Miyazaki’s added heroics was somewhat refreshing I’ll admit.) Miyazaki on the other hand makes this story so incredibly compelling for all ages so it becomes something to revisit over and over. I think this is most apparent in the handling of ‘the war’ in both stories. Warning, minor, minor, minor spoilers ahead. 

Image Credit: Vox

Image Credit: Polygon

Jones lets the reader know there is conflict in her fantasy world, but that’s about it. Readers never see the war or feel its impact on the characters, it’s simply there to push a narrative point forward (trying to be vague as possible here to avoid major spoilers, I hope you understand). Miyazaki however, embraces the war and we see how intense and significant it is on the characters’ lives, especially building to the conclusion wherein the war reaches our protagonists’ doorstep. In this way, the character’s actions and growth throughout the story feel more high stakes. This wasn’t something I picked up on as much as a kid, as I was far more focused on the magic, the romance, and the found-family ~vibes~ in the movie, but it is what made this film so compelling as I got older and rewatched it. Suddenly, there was this whole underlayer of character motivation that I was vaguely aware of but only really understood as I got older. In this way, I find the movie encompasses a much larger band of potential audiences as the work almost seems to grow up with you. 

Image Credit: Richh.co

To conclude rather boldly, the movie is better than the book- and I didn’t even touch on the beautiful animation, because oh my gosh this movie is gorgeous. This might ruffle people’s feathers as I know many hold the book dear, but at least it’s not as disconcerting as when I tell people I think the Harry Potter movies are better than the books. Don’t hate me. 

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