In the ongoing battle over which is better: the book or the movie, I’m usually on the book side. However, Howl’s Moving Castle is a special case: the book is fantastic and so is the movie—but they are almost completely different stories.
The setup is the same: The main character, 18-year-old, Sophie is the eldest of three sisters so she knows according to the fairy tale rules of her world she won’t be having any adventures. But after she runs afoul of the Witch of the Waste who casts a spell on her to make her old, Sophie decides he might as well strike out to find her fortune anyway. Along the way she finds a strange castle with four doors that open on different worlds, a fire demon, and the mysterious, vain, tantrum throwing, wizard Howl.
But that’s where the similarity ends. The movie by Hayao Miyazaki is very much focused on war with Sophie discovering Howl playing a role in an ongoing, very destructive battles among countries. (If you haven’t discovered the great animator/storyteller Miyazaki yet, do yourself a favor and rent his movies, all of them. My personal favorites are Spirited Away, Ponyo, and of course, Howl.)
I came at this backwards and saw the movie first. I loved it and thought the book would be even better as books usually are. But it is hard to compare the two because the book focuses more on a personal level. Sophie discovers her true nature, and Howl’s, through the curse that is laid on her. The plot is incredibly complex with a lot of mysteries that Jones deftly ties up into a fabulous ending that left me smiling for days.