[DWJ] Bristol Reader's Day : Part One, mostly about the Howl Workshop

Ven vendersleighc at yahoo.com
Mon Jun 12 19:22:14 EDT 2006

Heroes and Visions, a Reader's day was held at
Bristol University on the 10th of June. I would
say a good 20 or so people had come to attend
either the Howl's Moving Castle Workshop or the
reading/question and answer session with Diana.
There was also a panel discussion with all four
of the featured authors, novelists Tessa Hadley,
Andrew Taylor and Diana Wynne Jones and the
historian Tim Cole. 

As far as I now I was the only current list
member who went but I met several people from the
live journal community. I'd appreciate it if
someone could link this post to that community.

It was a terrifically good day. I was taking
notes throughout however my hands started
cramping up so I will be relying somewhat on
memory. particularly where I'm reporting on
things Diana said, in the final session,  I hope
you will all bear this in mind -- any errors will
be mine etc. 


The Howl Workshop came first. It was moderated by
Jenny Pausacker, assisted by Ika Wilkes, a one
time list member (and thoroughly lovely people
they are too). 

Some of the attendees were long time Dwj and Howl
fans, one or two had encountered the film first
and a couple had read the book purely because
they were attending the workshop (we all received
a copy when we signed up). At least one hadn't
finished reading it.

To begin Jenny asked us to say what
(character/scene) we enjoyed the most. There
seemed to be a certain reluctance for anyone to
to just dive in and declare their devotion to
Howl! It's a pretty hard thing to decide but I
went for the flowers, especially the garden in
the waste that Howl makes for Sophie (of which
more later) and in particular the detail that
Sophie's all conquering weedkiller is made up of
"daffodils in June". I had the misfortune to
encounter the truly terrible rankness that is
water sodden rotted down daffodils last year, and
I have to say Diana was spot about that as she is
about so much else. Someone mentioned the
parallels between Howl and the Wizard of Oz
(which I think has been posted about here
before). Wales came into it, and Calcifer and the
notion of Anti Fairy Story, as sterotypes such as
the fate of the eldest of three are overturned.
Thinking about the latter made me propose that
even the ending was anti fairy tale as it would
appear that rather than live *happily* ever after
they were going to live *bickering * ever after.

A great deal was said about the little old lady
as hero and the paradox that becoming old
actually liberated Sophie, allowing her to have
adventures, to roam about the countryside
muttering to herself and talking to things and
poking her nose wherever she wanted. Previously,
in the back room of the hat shop, she had been
able only to use her powers on the hats - and on
herself as she had a very low opinion of her own
potential and frequently told herself so. 

One of the things Sophie learns in HMC is not to
take what other's say for granted, whether it was
the common opinion of Howl as "heartless" or
Martha's opinion that Fanny exploited Sophie.
Given the nature iof Sophie's power it would be
very important that she became able to see and
speak true or who would know what she would talk
things into (compare the Simon Says Spell in
Witch Week). An additional note is needed here to
point out that the truth is not a simple thing, 
Sophie's assignment of hidden charm to the
mushroom pleated hats was no more or less true
than her dismissal of the same hat as "of no use
to anybody".

When we got around to Howl it was to consider
that he wasn't much of a conventional hero, what
with the slithering out, the plain looks and
vanity and so on. His relationship to Calcifer
was gone into pretty thoroughly, just what it
meant that Calcifer had Howl's heart. Was it
Howl's heart that made Calcifer so nice to Sophie
or was that Calcifer himself. 

It soon became clear that Howl is a rather
contradictory character. He is the heartless
wizard who charges the poor less and the rich
more. He takes in orphans, grannies and old
skulls, yet attempts to evade responsibilty at
all costs. Somebody made an interesting point
about the softness of Howl's heart -- which
Calcifer shrieks about when it is being squeezee.
We sort of concluded that a lot of what Howl did
was to protect himself from his own  generous
impulses because he feared exploitation.  This is
in contrast to Sophie's rather overdeveloped
sense of responsibility (whatever possessed her
by the way to actually go along wiht posaing as
Howl's old mother and blackening his name to the

Howl had protected his soft heart by giving it to
Calcifer. Someone speculated that Howl tried to
keep Calcifer and Sophie apart to protect his
poor feeble heart from her but of course it was
to no avail.

Finally there was a little said about what people
didn't like. One reader found it difficult that
so much information was piled on at once. fans
tended to find this a difficult criticism to
understand. Jenny (I think) wondered whether this
was a neccessary characteristic of children's
fiction as children read more slowly and take
things in more thoroughly. I'm not so sure about
that, as a lifelong speedy reader.

Another reader had become impatient with Sophie
waning her to just "get on with it". Jenny
thought an author might like this reaction,
having the reader behind the character urging
them on as it were.

Other things were mentioned such as the film but
this is about the useful limit of my notes and
memory. I have noticed also that I have had
atendency to end my paragraphs with the distilled
thoughts Iwas having about HMC as inspired by
what everyone said. I didn't always make these
known at the time!


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