Book Review: House of Many Ways by Diana Wynne Jones
Many years ago I got my hands on a copy of the anime movie Howl’s Moving Castle, an animation created by Japanese director Hayao Miyazaki. The story itself was a tad confusing but the stunning visual art more than made up for a few hiccups in plot. Then I discovered that the movie was based on a book of the same name by Diana Wynne Jones. It took me weeks to get my library to track down a copy for me but at last I was able to read the book that the amazing movie was based on. The book had a few plot problems as well but was fantastic. There are a few moments where you are not sure what is going on in both book and movie. (The scarecrow was who from where now?)
It’s a bit hard to find some of Diana Wynne Jones’ older books. She’s been writing for a long time and not all of her books are in print anymore. (I’ve been trying to find Witch’s Business for years. It was first published in 1973. I’m told another printing was done in 2004 but I can’t seem to find any copies.) Then, during a recent meandering across the internet I discovered that Mrs. Jones had written a new book, House of Many Ways, proclaimed to be a sequel to Howl’s Moving Castle. (This is not true. Howl, Sophie, and their young son Morgan appear in Castle in the Air, published in 1990. In it, their son is nothing more than a baby. House of Many Ways, published in 2008, features the child as a toddler.) [Incidentally, Hayao Miyazaki also created a movie called Castle in the Sky. However, the two share no similarities besides the title.] There are three books where the Wizard Howl wreaks havoc.
Charmain Baker is respectable. She pins her hair up into a respectable bun. She wears respectable clothing and has her respectable glasses hanging on a chain around her neck. She never does a thing for herself, like any respectable young woman. Her parents own a bakery shop and want their daughter to be respectable. Charmain Baker is also bored to tears. So when her aunt arranges for Charmain to look after the house of an ill relative, Charmain jumps at the chance. The only problem is that Great-Uncle William is a wizard and his house is magic. Charmain knows nothing about magic and nothing about taking care of herself. Throw in some royalty, the Wizard Howl and his family, a lost Elfgift, some missing gold, and some evil lubbockin and you have a complete mess. At least Charmain can’t say she’s bored anymore. Now if she could only figure out have to make breakfast!
House of Many Ways introduces a new set of characters, much like Castle in the Air did. Charmain Baker is our hapless heroine who gets more than she bargained for when she housesits for her Great-Uncle William, who also happens to be the royal wizard. (As a joke, Charmain is often mistakenly called Miss Charming, which she is decidedly not.) Charmain’s little get away in her Great-Uncle’s house is interrupted by the arrival of Peter, a wizard apprentice who can’t do magic correctly. He’s there to study under Charmain’s wizard uncle, as arranged by his mother. Too bad Great-Uncle William has been carted off by elves to be treated for his illness. Now there are two hapless people living in a house that is more than it seems.
Sophie arrives to help the King and Princess find out why all their money is disappearing and, if she has time, perhaps locate something called the Elfgift. But, where Sophie is, her husband the Wizard Howl is sure to be not far behind. But Howl shows up child sized for some reason, complete with the fire demon Calcifer and their young son, Morgan. (Morgan is perhaps my least favorite character in the whole book. I know he’s just a child, but Morgan is a child that needs a good spanking and to be put in the corner. He is an utter screaming, snot-nosed brat.) Then there are little blue men running around, a big purple lubbock plotting something in the meadow, and Crown Prince Ludovic who has purple eyes. Be sure to turn around clockwise once, make a left into the doorjamb, and if you find the Conference Room then you are rather lost.
I adore Diana Wynne Jones ever since I first read Howl’s Moving Castle and to find that she had written another sequel just made my month. House of Many Ways has none of the plot problems her earlier books have. The story didn’t wander off and no characters showed up at the end for no good reason. Howl’s Moving Castle seemed a little disjointed to me but House of Many Ways has a smoother, more refined feel to it that makes the book a great deal more readable. Charmain is an interesting character that knows her faults and is trying to change them but at the same time isn’t a very nice person and does not particularly enjoy having her lazy existence upset. She hasn’t washed a dish or piece of clothing in her life and doesn’t appreciate being forced to do so now. Charmain is being forced to grow up and if she knew it involved doing chores she might have just stayed home in the first place.
I don’t completely know why Peter is there. His mother sent him to study magic with Charmain’s great-uncle because no matter what spell he attempts, it never comes out quite right. This results in some hilarious situations where Peter has just made the problem worse by trying to use magic. I suspect he’s there just to frustrate Charmain and move things along by investigating the house while Charmain spends most of her time in the royal mansion. He doesn’t know his right from his left and uses colored string tied around his fingers to navigate the passages of the house. But it would have been too much to expect Charmain to discover the information Peter provides while at the same spending so much time with the other characters. Peter acts as guide, even if he is clueless.
The dog is not a dog. Well, she is a dog but she is a very special dog. Except when she is a he. But he shows that he is a special dog when he because a she. She is also very attached to Charmain. The dog also protects the kingdom by killing two rabbits. But they are very special rabbits. Just like she is a special dog. A great deal of purple is involved. Don’t worry, Charmain was confused too.
House of Many Ways by Diana Wynne Jones
Published June 1st 2008 by Greenwillow
Page 404 (It looks like a large book but the text is fairly big and centered on the page. I read it in three nights.)
Castle #3 (Wizard Howl Series)