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House of Many Ways: 06/07/19

House of Many Ways

House of Many Ways by Diana Wynne Jones is the third book in the Howl's Moving Castle series. Charmain Baker has been sent to housesit for her uncle, who is away recovering from an illness. It should be a simple job except her uncle is a bit dotty and he was the Royal Wizard of Norland.

Charmain also finds herself caring for her uncle's young, oft-confused apprentice, a magical stray dog, and a house that seems to have hallways and doorways into places that no house should possibly be able to go.

Though the set up is different, thematically and emotionally, this book reads like a novelization of the Ghibli Studio's animation of Jones's first book, done four years earlier. Charmain is like Sophie in personality (minus the curse to appear older than she is). The apprentice might as well be Markl. The absent uncle might as well be Howl who is often absent from the moving castle.

The first few scenes are similar too: Charmain appears at the house and sets to cleaning it. She's not as successful as Sophie because she's not magical like Sophie. But she tries. The apprentice storms in and tells her that she's doing things wrong but doesn't necessarily know the right way to do them. Through her attempts to clean she begins to discover the secrets to the house.

Given that Jones wrote the original source material, I can't and won't blame her for wanting to revisit things she explored in Howls Moving Castle (1986). Of the three books in the series, this third one, this re-do if you want to call it that, is my favorite. It's the most fun and the most engaging in terms of character and adventures.

The House of Many Doors also fits into the road narrative spectrum, though as an outlier. Jones was English but her books do sometimes use American road narrative tropes.

Charmain Baker is a marginalized traveler. Though she's traveling alone to the house, she's part of a family. She has family at home and the house belongs to her uncle. Even when she's alone, she doesn't feel separated from her family; she's not an orphan traveler. She is through marginalized by a lack of proper instructions and a lack of knowledge for her uncle's history (66).

The destination might appear to be "home" as it her uncle's house, but it is, in fact, uhoria. The house among other things, has doorways to places in the past. These aren't like the door in Howl's castle that opens to a different fixed location depending on how the dial is set. Instead these are literally built into the house's structure and different passages become available depending on how Charmain (or whomever) turns or looks. As it through these out of time moments that Charmain figures out what is going on and manages to help stop a nefarious plot, the destination is uhoria (CC).

The house with its many doors and many twists and turns and possible dangers is an architectural and uhoric maze disguised as a house. That some of these passageways could also pose a danger to the royal family make them extra dangerous and definitely a maze (CC), not a labyrinth.

Put all together, The House of Many Doors is about a marginalized traveler finding uhoria by way of a maze.

Five stars

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