Unlike the previous “sequel” to Howl’s Moving Castle (Castle in the Air), Diana Wynne Jones’ House of Many Ways is far more enjoyable. She introduces 16 year-old Charmain, sheltered by her parents, ready to be her own person. The chance arrives when her Aunt (a witch herself) proposes that she look after her Great-uncle, Wizard Norland’s house in his absence. Of course, like Howl’s moving castle, this house is not just any house, and Charmain has inherited magical powers. Sophie and Howl arrive onto the scene shortly thereafter, and expected mayhem ensues.
Jones seems to have been inspired by the color palette and visual playfulness of Hayao Miyazaki (who directed the movie for Howl). The gender role reversal with Peter and Charmain is fantastic, with him literally dragging her kicking and screaming to help him with the laundry and dishes (none of which she knows how to do). The flooding scene is very reminiscent of the hair dying accident scene in Howl – Jones’ sense of humor is spot on.
I’d liked to have seen more interaction between Charmain and the sorceress Sophie, and more meaningful chemistry between Peter and Charmain. I can certainly see the individuated Sophie as being a mentor figure to Charmain. While a Guardian blogger may have had an initial “what were you thinking moment” regarding Jones’ decision to feature Howl as lisping infant Twinkle, I thought it was *perfect* from the start. Howl is truly a baby: egotistical, starved for attention, and in need of its indulgence — all women reading the first book knew that, yet we love him and his dyed-flaxen hair anyways, because he’s not just terribly good-looking, he’s a thoroughly good guy who’d put his life on the line for all those he loves – his wife Sophie, his son Morgan, or their fire demon (Genie-type figure) Calcifer. Freed, independent Calcifer is simply lovely.
I certainly hope this is the first of many new sequels Ms. Jones plans to write. Though she is older, she is as sharp-witted as ever. She makes a husband and wife sorcery team (Howl, aged 30; Sophie, aged 20) with a troublesome, magical 2 year-old, seem like so much, rollicking fun. For every New Yorker story that makes me depressive about marriage & kids, here’s the perfect anecdote. The lands of Ingary and beyond appear to have an India-inspired kingdom, from where the samosas featured in the book come from. Even in fantastical novels written by Brits, the inhabitants are eating Indian food while fighting scary monsters.