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Welcome to October Weekend Picks! Erinn Bentley and Roy Edward Jackson are our generous contributors during this month.
The first suggestion comes from Erinn Bentley, a professor of English education at Columbus State University in Georgia. In addition to mentoring pre-service teachers and graduate students, she enjoys leading study abroad programs around the world. Her weekend pick is Diana Wynne Jones’ Howl’s Moving Castle.
This past summer, I had the joy of accompanying my colleague to Oxford, England as part of a study abroad program focused on fantasy young adult literature inspired by this magical place. Included in our course were familiar novels, such as The Lion, The Witch, and The Wardrobe; The Golden Compass; and The Hobbit. A new-to-me YA novel chosen for this course was Diana Wynne Jones’ Howl’s Moving Castle. It was so delightful, I decided to recommend it as this weekend’s pick.
This novel focuses on Sophie, a spunky young woman, who believes she is destined to fail if she or her two sisters leave home to pursue their fates. When their father unexpectedly dies, the sisters are thrust out into the world, where Sophie has an unfortunate encounter with the Witch of Waste. Under this witch’s spell, Sophie is transformed into an old woman. The secret to breaking this spell is in the Wizard Howl’s castle, which taunts residents as it travels around the countryside.
After cleverly moving herself into the castle, Sophie must deal with the temperamental Howl, his fire demon, a young apprentice, and an enchanted scarecrow as she embarks on a journey to remove her curse. On this journey, she ultimately learns valuable insights about herself, her family, and her new companions.
I think this novel is interesting to study within the context of previous Oxford writers. Wynne Jones includes traditional elements of YA fantasy: wizardry and magic, curses and enchantments, birth order and family responsibilities, new and other worlds. This novel also embodies familiar themes: fate vs. free will, outward appearances vs. reality, good vs. evil, and the hero’s journey. Sophie’s journey - while just as noble as the ones taken by the Pevensie children, Lyra, and Bilbo Baggins – strikes a lighter and more self-deprecating tone, making her a relatable character. Additionally, I think adolescent readers would find the hilarious and quirky twists in her quest to be amusing. Hayao Miyazaki's film adaptation is also quite amazing and another resource for teaching this novel.