The book of the film, the film of the book; most often, at least one version sucks. It is especially difficult when the book comes first, and is one you loved as a child. When I first saw Hayao Miyazaki’s animated version of Howl’s Moving Castle, I was bristling with suspicion, prepared to be disappointed – but I loved it in its own right.
There’s no hope of me remembering which of Diana Wynne Jones’ books I read first. It was so long ago, and I’ve read and re-read so many of them that the chronology is hopelessly tangled. There’s a shelf of them in the corner, mostly scavenged from charity shops and car boots, hoarded to read with the kids, or when I’m sick, tired or nostalgic. If I tried, I couldn’t pick a favourite, but Howl’s… and the two books that come after it (Castle in the Air, The House of Many Ways) are great examples of her work at its best.
The stories are engaging and skillfully plotted; her spare, elegant prose style leaves plenty of room to use your imagination, to add colour and detail. Her characters have flaws and responsibilities and obstacles to overcome, and never inhabit a world where adults have all the answers.
These days CGI means that no fantasy is thought unfilmable. Battalions of artists and animators mere digital and live action every day, and the impossible is a given for any movie or TV show. I’m a bit of a Luddite about it, though, and I can’t imagine any film version of Howl’s that I would love as much as Miyazaki’s gorgeous hand-painted animation. It’s not a faithful adaptation of the book, but a great story in its own right, and that’s the best outcome. Wynne Jones herself was quoted as saying ‘… it’s very likely to be different, but that’s as it should be’, and how could anyone disagree?