When I started these posts, I had to decide on an icon. I can no longer remember what cover was on the copy of The Lives of Christopher Chant I read back in the day, and sadly, my memory of my original Fire and Hemlock cover turned out to be way cooler than the reality. (In my head, it looked a lot more like the photograph is described. I would pay so much money to see Diana's actual Fire and Hemlock picture.)
But I remember the cover under which I first read Howl's Moving Castle. It's the one you see in this icon, and while Howl himself doesn't look right, that is Calcifer. (One of the many reasons I was disappointed with Miyazaki's film is that Calcifer, while adorable, was utterly wrong.) So, since I wanted an icon that might actually be recognized as Diana Wynne Jones-related, this was the natural choice.
Since I've started to begin this project by re-reading my first tier of favorites -- I don't have a favorite, one that stands out above all others -- I will once again point you at the recommendation I wrote some time ago, which gives you a sense of the plot. This one is much more fairy-tale-ish in its flavor, firmly set by the opening paragraph's proclamations about the misfortune of being born the eldest of three. Its hard edges aren't as prominent, either, as in the previous two books; there are some unpleasant notion lurking in the whole business with the fire demons, and also in what happens with Mrs. Pentstemmon (not to mention Prince Justin and the Wizard Suliman), but there's less that makes you squirm and think, um, these people aren't entirely good, are they? Howl's faults, while real, are also less sharp-edged.
But it's a Diana Wynne Jones book, and that means it also has some interesting truths about people's behavior. I saw somebody's post talking about how Christopher gets smacked upside the head by Flavian's outburst in Lives, and so, in a way, does the reader; there's a similar kind of reversal here with Fanny, as Sophie's mental image of her (and the reader's) changes from the beginning to the end of the book. Sophie's own motivations are for a time unclear to her, and Howl . . . well, let's just say that I'm wondering if my childhood fondness for this book somehow primed me to like Francis Crawford of Lymond. There are some unexpected similarities between the two.
I'm wandering close to spoiler territory, though, so I'll put the rest behind the cut.
So I mentioned in the Fire and Hemlock post that the books I've started this project with share an odd quality among their male characters: a romance that cannot be consummated (in an emotional sense) because the men's hearts/souls/etc are not their own. In this case Howl's heart belongs to Calcifer, rather than the Witch, which would have been a more exact parallel, but he explicitly says "I shall never be able to love anyone properly now." Not until he gets his heart back can he reach out to Sophie. (By then, of course, she's also her eighteen-year-old self, rather than an old woman. But the heart is a major part of it, too.)
Aside from <cough> wondering whether this is where my hindbrain got a certain plot point for my own fiction, I also start to wonder whether DWJ is where I got my interest in names. Howl is also Howell Jenkins; Tacroy is also Mordecai Roberts; even Thomas Lynn has a significant shift between Mr. Lynn and Tom. I'll try to keep tracking these motifs as I continue the re-read, to see how far they extend. (No abused children, though. For all her faults, Fanny is explicitly said to be fair and generally kind.)
On a less analytical note, I've always loved her use of "Song" in this novel -- to the point where I think one of the things that endeared Deep Secret to me was its use of the Babylon rhyme, which echoed this book in a pleasing way. I'm not entirely sure what to make of the use of Wales/our world more generally; it's kind of an odd choice, now that I stop to think of it, and it irretrievably distracted teleidoplex when I lent her this book. Part of my brain wants to graft this onto the Chrestomanci setting because of that. (It could probably work. Sophie's world doesn't look like part of Series Twelve, but that's okay; Howell could have found some unexpected method of hopping out of Twelve-B. I do wonder how he managed it, and Ben Sullivan before him.) I like the way it contributes to taking Howl down a peg, though; the continual deflation of his image is fun -- I think of Calcifer calling him "a plain man with mud-colored hair" -- and makes for that much more effect when he has one of his "I am a wizard, you know" moments.
I feel like I should talk about the film, since I mentioned it a moment ago. I knew Miyazaki was likely to change things, and so for the longest time I referred to it as Hauru no Ugoku Shiro (its Japanese title) in an attempt to think of it as its own thing, not to be compared to the book. Unfortunately, the first half of the movie paralleled the book closely enough, with minor changes (e.g. Michael => a much younger Markl), that I couldn't help but think of the story as Howl's Moving Castle. So when it took a screeching ninety-degree turn at Wizard Suliman, haring off into a different plot entirely, I couldn't help but feel betrayed. I know some people really love it, and some of those had even read the book first, but it didn't work for me. I remain desirous of a live-action version -- CGI could do a great Calcifer, I'm sure -- and no, I don't know why this is the book I most want to see filmed, but it's true. Something about its visual nature is particularly strong in my head.
There's at least one more book in the top tier; then we get into a fuzzy zone that I will probably just declare the second tier, and at that point I'll start branching off into one or more of the books I haven't read yet, or ones that are (from my perspective) more obscure. If you have a DWJ you'd really like to hear my opinion on sooner rather than later, mention it in the comments. It's as good an organizing principle as any.