Posts Tagged ‘Diana Wynne Jones’

Howl’s Moving Castle Readalong: House of Many Ways

Did you find this one a tiny bit unsatisfying too, Squiders? I think I’ve finally figured out why both this one and Castle in the Air leave you feeling a little grumpy, and that’s that the main character isn’t the main character.

I’ve lost everyone, haven’t I. Sorry. In general, the main character is the person who has the most impact on the story, and in most cases it’s the viewpoint person. (Not always. For example, in Wuthering Heights, the viewpoint character is just someone who’s arrived in town, and is being told the story himself.) You identify with the main character, and then you want to see them overcome the obstacles to be the hero at the end of the story.

In both Castle and here, we have a viewpoint character who has an issue. (In Castle, Abdullah needs to get Flower-in-the-Night back. Here, it’s less clear. Is it that Charmain wants freedom? That she wants to learn to be on her own? That she wants to work in the Royal Library? I’m not sure, and that’s not a good thing either.) But in both books, there’s a bigger issue that somewhat ties into the viewpoint character’s problem on a world or country-level.

So, in both books, you have a more interesting conflict going on in the background, and the hero(es) of that more interesting conflict is Sophie (and Howl and Calcifer). When we get to the end of the book, while the viewpoint character is important, the actual figuring out and solving and sometimes doing falls to Sophie (and Howl and Calcifer). This leaves the reader with a little bit of a “why did I bother?” feeling. Why not just tell the more interesting conflict from Sophie’s or Howl’s viewpoint, with the new character as a side character?

Here, Charmain figures out the crown prince is a lubbockin, but it comes out on its own before she can tell anybody. But Howl takes out him and his henchmen (with some help from Waif). And Peter, who’s been a fairly major character otherwise, is missing for the climax. It’s just…odd. Calcifer kills the lubbock. Howl finds the gold and the Elfgift. Really the only thing Charmain manages to contribute in the end is what’s been happening to the tax money.

So you have your “main character” being mostly an observer for the most important part of the plot. And that’s why it doesn’t sit well.

Charmain’s a little hard to swallow anyway. She’s kind of a brat. And so’s Peter at times. And perhaps it’s because I’m an adult, but I just wanted to shake them at various points.

I’m also sad that Howl’s ability to cross over between our world and whatever the fictional world is called is never remotely explained, and now it never shall be.

I did like that we didn’t try to sneak Howl/Sophie/Calcifer in like in Castle. And the house itself was cool, though a bit confusing. I kind of wish that had been explained a little better.

What did you think, Squiders? Did the viewpoint/main character disconnect bother you? What was your favorite part? Feel free to ask questions of your own or talk about whatever you’d like in the comments.

Howl’s Moving Castle Readalong: Castle in the Air

I’m changing the name of the readalong for clarity’s sake. Also, whereas we read Howl’s for a direct comparison to the Enchanted Forest Chronicles, we’re basically reading the rest of the Howl series just because they’re fun and we can.

I hope, Squiders, that you didn’t have as many issues as I did trying to track down Castle in the Air. I checked multiple library systems, including the Kindle Lending Library, several used bookstores, and several not-used bookstores (we had that conversation already). I finally had to buy it off of Amazon.

(All the libraries have the third book, The House of Many Ways, but now I am wondering if I should just buy it so I have the whole set.)

Ah, Castle. I think, the first time I read it, I was just reading Diana Wynne Jones books because I never had until Miyazaki’s Howl’s Moving Castle came out and I didn’t realize it was related at all until, you know, near the end when you suddenly have Sophie and you’re a bit confused about what just happened. I think it’s more confusing if you don’t know that the books are related before hand. And I suspect it is even more confusing if you haven’t read Howl’s previously.

I have complaints. Whereas Howl‘s plays on the traditional fairy tale tropes, Castle tries to do the same with your Arabian-Night styled tropes, and I feel that instead of twisting the cliches, it just falls prey to them. There’s your typical genies and magic carpets and djinns and sultans, and maybe the twist is supposed to be that a lot of them are enchanted people, but it doesn’t quite work out.

Also, the plot feels kind of hodge-podge. Like she had this idea for the story of Abdullah and Flower-in-the-Night but couldn’t quite get it to go by itself, so she mixed in elements from her Howl’s world and kind of stuffed things wherever they would go.

(Also, I could remember from the first reading that the carpet and the genie were Howl and Calcifer, but I couldn’t remember which was which, and I guessed the other way around from how it actually was, because it seemed to me that Howl would like to be flattered with pretty language and that it would just piss Calcifer off.)

(Also, Prince Justin apparently can’t go more than two feet outside of Kingsbury without getting enchanted.)

And I am annoyed that Sophie, despite being an excellent mother as a cat, suddenly is all timid and incompetent when faced with a human baby. Nrrrgh.

There are things I liked, though. I like the end rather a lot, and I like that the princesses are reasonable, useful people instead of just being in the way or being helpless. I like how everyone had to work together to get rid of the djinns. I like Jamal and his dog. And I like the epilogue.

…so apparently I only like the last quarter of the book. Hm.

What did you think, Squiders? Do you feel like the book was successful at its attempt to be a twist on the Arabian Night stories?

We’ll read The House of Many Ways for the end of July. I haven’t gotten around to reading that one yet, so I’m interested to see how it goes. I’m hoping it gives us more of a look at how Howl can cross from our world to Ingary and back again.

Announcing the Enchanted Forest Chronicles Readalong

Hoorah! Our first of the year. You’ll notice, Squiders, that we’re changing from re-reads to readalongs. I want people who have never read the particular series we’re working on to feel welcome to join in.

To start ourselves off for the year, we’re going to be reading through Patricia Wrede’s Enchanted Forest Chronicles which, if you are unfamiliar with them, are fantastic examples of fairy tale satire (and have also been a major influence on my own writing). There’s four books: Dealing with Dragons, Searching for Dragons, Calling on Dragons, and Talking to Dragons.

These are YA books, so they read pretty fast.

When we get to Calling we’ll discuss whether or not to add in a related collection of shorts, The Book of Enchantments. There’s at least one in there that is directly related to the series (and involves an enchanted frying pan, if I recall correctly), but I worry that it may be too hard to find. Feel free to let me know here if you’d like it included or not.

Also, as a bonus and to compare fairy tale satires and another of my very favorite authors (and an influence), we’ll read Diana Wynne Jones’s Howl’s Moving Castle at the end.

(There’s two sequels to Howl’s: Castle in the Air and House of Many Ways. Right now, I’m leaning towards not including them, but if everyone really likes Howl’s I’m open to it.)

(And yes, Miyazaki made a movie of it–which is also excellent–but not really at all similar unless you count that some characters have the same name and there is a castle. That moves. Miyazaki put an environmental turn on it, which is really not surprising if you look at the rest of his work.)

So! If you want some fun, excellent fantasy once a month for the next however many months, jump on board! We’ll do discussion of Dealing with Dragons on January 31st.

Which is a Thursday.

Aging Authors

I don’t know how many of you caught my post at Turtleduck Press mid-February about how I believe that we are not only a product of our experiences, but also what we’re exposed to, and how important books can be to a young child.

What brought on such introspection was the death of Brian Jacques, author of the Redwall books, which I was in love with when I was little.

And this past weekend, Diana Wynne Jones, one of my literary idols, passed away.  (Patricia Wrede has a lovely post about Ms. Jones at her blog.  It warms the cockles* of my cold, dead heart to know that my two favorite authors were friends with each other.)

I took my mother to see Lois Lowry (Of The Giver and Number the Stars fame) give a talk at a local bookstore on Monday.  When she came in, my mother leaned over and whispered, “She’s getting so old,” to me.  Ms. Lowry is 74.

Life happens.  People die.  But I admit it’s a bit like losing family.  A good book is like a dear friend, always welcome to visit, and by extension, I can’t help but love the people who bring them to me.

And I can’t help but wonder about the stories that go with them, that the world never gets to see.  As a writer myself, oh, the stories.  They are never-ending.  I will never be able to write all the stories in my head.  What characters did the world never get to love?  What places did they never get to visit?

There will be new authors, new books.  But I can’t help but miss the ones that have given me so much over the years.


* The dictionary informs me that a cockle is a type of mollusk.  I am not sure where this expression comes from or why it exists, but you all know my love of invertebrate sea creatures, so I continue to use it, usually inappropriately.