Follow TV Tropes
Howl's Moving Castle is well known as one of the most flawed Ghibli films, above all spending a lot of runtime on a war that has little to do with the characters, and then ending the war with one of the silliest Deus ex machinas in film history; but it also has a some devoted fans who like its powerful core theme. Reading the novel helps explain some of the film's odd choices: said deus ex machina is the remnant of a properly-developed subplot. The novel is very different from the film, sharing only the core cast and their arc, but just as flawed in its own way.
The novel is more self-aware and parodic than Miyazaki's straight-faced work, and sometimes this works: I like how Sophie talks herself into inaction because as the eldest of three, she would only fail so the youngest can succeed. At other times, it tries to be too clever in the wrong ways. The worst example is Howl's origin, which raises all kinds of questions and makes the story much harder to take seriously, and I am glad this was cut out.
Then there's the plot. In a story themed around overcoming cultural expectations, shouldn't the plot be centred on how the cast relate to their society? Yet most of it is spent puzzling over a nonsensical magical riddle and other distracting shenanigans, and the climax feels dull and confused because there are so many subplots vying for attention. Miyazaki cut off this kudzu that was suffocating the story, then piled on a new mound of his own making. But he gave the film a powerful, if badly explained, climax.
The novel sets out characters and themes better, while the film has good visual storytelling (such as how Sophie ages down at times). Magic in the novel uses riddles and dialogue, while the film has shapeshifting and a lot more steampunk; obviously each is using its own medium, but overall the film makes it more cohesive and fitting to the setting. There is a magic duel in the novel that is meant to be grandiose, but really just feels silly, like a prose pantomime.
The starkest difference lies in the Witch of the Waste: she exudes hate, menace and horror in the novel, while the film reduced her to little more than comic relief. I prefer the novel version, but then again this is not a villain-centered story and she is defeated rather easily at the end.
I would recommend anyone interested to get both versions, and if you can look past their flaws there is a great transformative romance here. And it is my hope that someday another adaptation will combine the best of both versions.
Community Showcase More