ハウルの動く城, Hauru no Ugoku Shiro (Howl’s Moving Castle), 2004


Based on the extremely popular {and HILARIOUS} fantasy novel written by Diana Wynne Jones in 1986, Howl’s Moving Castle garnered praise from film critics world wide as one of Hayao Miyazaki’s most colorful and enjoyable animated films. It was nominated for an Academy Award in 2006 as best animated film and has since won numerous other awards including the Osella Award for Technical Achievement at the 61st Venice Film Festival. Film Critic Peter Travers praised it stating, “There’s a word for the kind of comic, dramatic, romantic, transporting visions Miyazaki achieves in Howl’s: bliss.” Despite all the wonderful things said about it, there were many people who see this film as Miyazaki’s weakest work.

This was the second Hayao Miyazaki film I ever watched. It is because of it that I became interested in his other works. In fact I would often tell people, if they asked, that it was my absolute favorite film. It seems strange that I am only writing my review for it now. I guess I have put it off because of doubts I had about its genuine mastery {I blame Roger Ebert for that}.

Recently however I watched it again, paying special attention to its animation and story, and bought the art book, which contains myriads of original story boards and concept sketches. In it, I came across a reflection written by the supervising animator Kitaro Kosaka, who said something I will never forget:

Although I was impressed by his approach to characters, what really amazed me was his incredible talent as a filmmaker. This film differs from his previous films insofar as the story assumes the perspective of the characters. We did our best to delete an explicit omniscient point of view or explanatory scenes. That’s part of the film’s appeal. The story is packed with stimulating scenes, and watching the story unfold is an enthralling experience for both adults and children. I really thought, ‘This is amazing.’

Despite deep criticisms against it, I took a step back and examined it from an untainted perspective. I recalled the feelings I had when I watched it for the first time when I was seventeen. Starry-eyed and taken aback I had thought to myself “This is magic.” To my relief, I still believe it.


The story begins in a quaint hat shop where Sophie Hatter works as one of the seamstresses. As the other girls giggle about May Day they spot Howl’s castle moving through the hills. Uninterested, Sophie leaves separately from the others and embarks into town to meet her sister Lettie. However, when she moves to escape the crowds she is stopped by two soldiers who try to bully her into having a drink with them. Suddenly an elegantly dressed blond man steps beside her and playfully removes the soldiers, before assuming the role as her escort. While walking with him, they are pursued by top hatted blob men {Yes blob men} who work for the witch of the waste. They evade them as Howl thrusts them into the air and magically walks her to the top balcony of Lettie’s bakery. This encounter, catches the attention of the witch of the waste, who visits Sophie in her hat shop and changes her into an old woman, who can’t tell anyone she is cursed. From there she leaves her dull life and becomes a cleaning lady in Howl’s castle.

I would rather not spoil this movie for anyone who hasn’t had the privilege of watching it. The plot, though its seems vague in the beginning, takes on a new clarity by the end of the film. In order to fully grasp its story, it is necessary to carefully watch each of the characters, because it is told solely from imagery.

There are no long monologues or dramatic discoveries, rather it is as though we are plunged headfirst into their memories. Because the film was organized this way, the character’s physical and psychological changes seem so natural and flow so easily it is hard to even notice they happen. By the end of the film, they are completely different people, not because we finally understand them but because they really have changed exponentially either out of their love for another person or by dramatic events that force them to switch sides.


download (4)

Knowing the overall film making process, especially for animated films, completely changes your perspective of Howl’s Moving Castle. This is especially true in the conception of the film’s most dynamic character, the moving castle. Before, I had simply been fascinated by the mysterious way the castle moved. In fact, the first time I saw it I was torn between two conflicting questions: “What on earth is that thing?” and “How did they do it (meaning how did they make it move so intricately)?”

Now, it is as if the puzzle pieces have finally come together. In order to make the castle’s incredible movements possible, animators relied on CG effects which effectively put together all the painted pieces of the castle and brought it to life. For even those who don’t like this movie, it is impossible to not stand in awe of such a beautiful animated achievement.

They used similar tactics in scenes like the black hole that spread underneath Sophie as she looked on at a younger Howl, and in sweeping background movements as the characters ran or when they were in moving vehicles.

Myazaki-san designed the castle himself and has a knack for creating magical elements in his films in ways that other animators and designers couldn’t possibly do themselves. Who else would have conceived such a perplexing character as the moving castle?

It isn’t strange for essentially non-living buildings or places to become main characters in such stories. For example, in The Hunchback of Notre Dame though the cathedral technically can’t be considered a living, breathing thing it is referred to as a real person (specifically a motherly figure). Often the mood of the cathedral directly reflected those of the characters or intense events such as the execution of the gypsy Esmeralda when it hovered over the pyre angrily, red and menacing because of the fires.

Though such a viewpoint is not as dramatic in Howl’s Moving Castle, there are still times where it seems like the almost amphibious castle has a life of its own. Naturally, this is because it has a lifelike structure. It moves on four clawed legs and even has a mouth and eyes.


As in all Miyazaki-san’s films, his other characters are as simple as they are complex. Never in any of his works will you ever see copy cut-out’s or unoriginal stereotypes. Describing and understanding the characters is almost impossible even after one sees the movie many times. As I have said in my other reviews of his movies, this is because he doesn’t create characters. It is almost as if he is telling stories about real people.


Sophie and Howl Howls Moving Castle Picture

Sophie in the beginning comes across as detached, sullen and shy, overshadowed by her flamboyant mother and pretty younger sister Lettie. This makes her in no way cruel or unlikable. It is actually quite interesting to see how much she opened up and relaxed when it was only expected that she was plain and un-extraordinary. If anything, Howl’s Moving Castle is a testament that a person’s self-perception not only changes how others see them but who they become. In other words, because she believed that she was plain, boring and of little merit it reflected on how she and others saw and treated her.

What is intriguing is how much she changed when she no longer focused solely on herself. I know this sounds corny, but it is because she fell in love with Howl that she overcame her curse. This was a curse that she had put on herself. The author Catherynne M. Valente put it the best in her book The Girl Who Soared Over Fairyland and Cut the Moon in Two (2013). In quoting the Undercamel from Pluto, her pawless yeti stated, “What others call you, you become. It’s a terrible magic that everyone can do -so do it. Call yourself what you wish to become.” No one really talked about how or when she suddenly became young again. It simply happened and her closest friends accepted the change as if she had only switched outfits. Perhaps this was because they had seen beyond her physical appearance at the person hidden deep inside her.



Of all the characters, Howl is the one who changes the most subtlety. His soft, nonchalant personality doesn’t dramatically shift. Unlike in Jones’ original novel, he is never considered by anyone to really be evil or terrible. Yes it is said in passing, but it isn’t taken seriously. Because the audience first sees him as Sophie’s mysterious, gallant rescuer he is portrayed as the exact opposite. His motives don’t come across as selfish or laden with ulterior motives, rather the best way to describe him is easygoing or carefree. He lives within the bounds of what is convenient and detaches himself from anything troublesome.

Like Sophie, it is obvious that he is too focused on himself and the way he looks. He also masks himself to escape from his problems, except he does it through fancy, bright styles rather than dowdy cloths. It isn’t until the fateful (and side splitting) bathroom disaster when his world comes crumbling down {basically his hair turned orange instead of the usual beautiful blond color he liked and he threw a tantrum}.

Afterwards, the facade is gone and he lets his barrier down. The past terrified him both because of the mistakes he had made with people like Suliman and the Witch of the Waste and also the fateful decision he had made in his youth.

Yet, I think that while watching Sophie he finally let go of his fear. He even told Sophie “I am tired of running away Sophie, and now I finally have something I want to protect. It’s you.” In his own way I think that he is an admirable person. He fought against the cruel war and obviously cared about people. All in all, I think of all of Miyazaki-san’s heroes he is the most simple and unassuming.

I wanted to mention the other characters briefly, though they aren’t as important to the main story-line. The main “villian” is obviously the Witch of the Waste. In this film however the witch isn’t killed or banished, rather she loses her magic and becomes a part of their family.Naturally, because American audiences have absorbed stereotypical villian vs. heroe movies for so long it is expected that there be a flashy battle where good triumphs over evil. Miyazaki-san doesn’t create movies with this mentality. The supervising animator Akihiko Yamashita put it this way:

… if I had directed Howl’s Moving Castle, I think it would have been a war between wizards where Howl would ward off the Witch of the Waste. But Miyazaki wasn’t interested in portraying the witch as evil. His open-minded approach was very inspiring.

His approach doesn’t surprise me, because in all his movies I have only ever seen one true blue villain and that was Colonel Moskow from Laputa Castle in the Sky. I think this approach in film-making is needed. True, there are some stories that NEED villains like those in Disney’s Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs (1937) or Pinocchio (1940) but other times, most of the time, it isn’t that easy or wise to label people as evil or good based only on what we see.

The other characters like Markl and Calcifer add a needed charm and buoyancy to the plot and contribute to the plot’s simple magic without being overbearing. They change too by the end of the film but their’s comes more as a result of Howl and Sophie’s transformation.



Howl and Sophie’s romance is definitely less dramatic than it is in the book. Jones’ original characters constantly yelled at each other and threw tantrums. At one point, Sophie in a jealous fit poisons a vase of flowers and then goes on a rampage outside of their mansion with a jug of weed killer. This love story in the film adaptation is definitely more delicate.

Like Sophie’s transformation, their love story unfolded gracefully and developed almost like a flower opening after a rain shower. By the time Howl takes Sophie on their walk to his childhood cottage, it seems only natural when they walk arm in arm like young lovers through the fields of flowers. It is even less shocking when Howl cries, after Sophie harshly calls herself dull and only good for cleaning, “Sophie, Sophie you’re beautiful” and sadly watches as she shrivels back into an old woman.

There is no reason to worry about their future or whether they will be together, because they suit one another so naturally. They both have quiet personalities and aren’t forced to change for the other person. Rather, they change because of the other person without even realizing it themselves.

There hasn’t been nor will there ever be a film like this one. Personally, I think that of all his films it is the brightest and it flows with magic only imagined through dreams and childhood fantasies. Laden within this fantastic world are also subtle lessons against war, self esteem and like in many of his other films the power of true love. This kind of love isn’t very dramatic but it is powerful. Why? Because it is real. It is impossible to question its authenticity because it seems so natural and it happens so gradually. In other words, it develops and embeds itself rather than being foolishly grasped or thrust away while the characters are frantically running from yet towards each other.

I find it so strange that so few take animation seriously when it has become one of the most powerful storytelling arts. Only through animation could they have brilliantly told a story such as this one. That is the magic of Miyazaki-san’s true animated masterpieces. He opens for worldwide audiences a window into the spectacular without resorting to petty plots or moral challenging scenes. They are beautifully simplistic and unforgettable.


I can’t go against the wonderful feeling I have had since I first watched it five or six years ago. This will forever stay one of my favorite films and I believe in its own way that it is a masterpiece. Take it as you will, but remember that sometimes the most brilliant of stories don’t need to shout or scream. Some just unfold like a dream.



Sophie: Please. Howl. I’m sure I could be of help to you. {PAUSE} Even though I’m not pretty. . . {PAUSE} and all I’m good at is cleaning.

Howl: Sophie! Sophie you’re beautiful!

{Sophie becomes an old woman again}

Sophie: Well, the nice thing about being old is that you’ve got nothing left to lose.

SECOND FAVORITE: {I couldn’t resist}

[Howl comes running out of the bathroom, screaming. His hair is now orange]
Howl: Sophie! You, you sabotaged me! Look! Look at what you’ve done to my hair! Look!
Old Sophie: What a pretty color.
Howl: It’s hideous! You completely ruined my magic potions in the bathroom!
Old Sophie: I just organized things, Howl. Nothing’s ruined.
Howl: Wrong! Wrong! I specifically ordered you not to get carried away!

Howl: Now I’m repulsive.

[slumps into a chair]
Howl: I can’t live like this.

[starts sobbing, head in hands]
Old Sophie: Come on, it’s not that bad.

[Howl’s hair changes color to purple, then black]
Old Sophie: You should look at it now, its shade is even better.
Howl: [inconsolable] I give up. I see not point in living if I can’t be beautiful.

Series Review: Psyren 2007-2010


It has been a while since I have actually written a legitimate book review, but after finishing this series for the second time I couldn’t help myself. Since I have become a school teacher my time spent writing these reviews has regrettably been limited but I have realized that writing my feelings here, even if hardly any one sees them, helps release a lot of tension and pressure I build up everyday. That being said, I would like to commence with my review of the widely popular and in many ways overlooked series written and drawn by Toshiaki Iwashiro.

First serialized in 2007, Psyren is a shonen manga series centering on multiple people transported to a horrific future where the world has been completely destroyed and inhabited by unimaginable monsters. The trick is, they are only transported there when summoned by Nemesis Q who forces them to participate in a “game” meant to discover the reason behind that gruesome future. The story begins when the main character Ageha Yoshina watches an old classmate Sakurako Amamiya disappear before his eyes. Determined to find and save her, he accepts Nemesis Q’s phone card and after finishing a long survey finds himself in the formidable future. As he finds and rescues Sakurako and discovers his unborn PSI abilities that gives him and any who have been exposed to the future earth’s atmosphere awakened powers, he and others become determined to fight and change their formidable future.

I remember reading this series when I was perhaps nineteen. I went through it incredibly fast and was fascinated by Iwashiro-san’s incredible plot and characters. From the beginning, it was impossible to truly grasp what would happen in the story. Even the main character, who many no doubt expected to become an all powerful character like Ichigo from Bleach or Goku from Dragonball Z, was fully aware of his limitations and struggled to become stronger. Did he become the most powerful person in the entire universe? No. Not really. Yes, he became powerful but his power lay in something far more infinite and complex. This was a power born from an intense desire to protect others, especially Sakurako whom he had loved since childhood. Incredibly, they not only were able to prevent the horrible future but ensure that the future they had traveled to so many times, eventually broken off as a different reality, be saved and protected.


Let’s talk about the plot. The question that many of you are probably thinking is “How is Psyren any different than any other manga we have read or seen before?”. To be honest it is difficult to explain that. To put it simply, it is brilliantly clever in its dialogue and execution. Is that cliqued and not a very well supported answer? The plot flows with pristine beauty and flawlessly relays important clues and information without being too vague or obvious. To be honest, the minute you start reading it is likely that you will be hooked until the end. The reason? For me, it kept me asking questions. In my eyes Fullmetal Alchemist is the only manga that surpasses its breadth and depth. I know when I have struck gold when a story grasps me from the beginning and fills me with such joy at its conclusion. This is a story that MEANS something. It reaches into the vast human imagination.


I still haven’t been able to fully understand the characters (which is a good thing). Ageha, though initially your typical hotheaded hero bound and determined to save everyone really stepped beyond his stereotypical role. To put it bluntly, he grew into himself. He held incredible pain yet it didn’t seem to hold him back. Through most of the manga it is never even discussed. It is unclear until the last volume why he was so determined to find and save Sakurako and stay by her side. By the end it is expected that he will be become the most powerful being that saves the world almost single handedly. NOT SO! He doesn’t even kill the man responsible but fulfills the wish of Nemesis Q and saves him from becoming a monster. Sakurako also puzzled me because her personality was so erratic and unfocused till the end. One minute she was cold and calculating, the next she was a bubbly teenager. Her unstable grasp on her emotions was a result of her broken family life and involvement in Psyren but, to my delight, she is able to overcome such pain because of Ageha.

As for the other characters like the strong Hiryū Asaga, who had come to Psyren to save a childhood friend, Oboro Mochizuki, who is just plain crazy, and even Kabuto Kirisaki who overcomes his cowardice by assimilating his fear with his powers they are all genuine and entertaining.


Again, the plot’s execution was nothing short of brilliant. Mysteries slowly unfold and reach toward a future that not only means stopping the mass execution of most of the human race, but also the conversion of those responsible. To me, it means more when villains are shown to be more than mindless evil tyrants. They had a purpose that reached beyond mere greed for power and dominion. Rather, they were human beings deluded by their emotionless warped perception of human existence born from years of torture and seclusion. I empasized with them, however I was still able to acknowledge that their actions were nonetheless twisted and evil. Did that make them irredeemable? The story never truly says. Personally, I think this story shows that scientific experimentation on human beings never goes well. (Especially if you rebuild your laboratory more than once even after the first one had been completely destroyed by a previous patient.) You would think they have learned their lesson by then.

In a way, I am immensely glad that no one has tried to make this series into an anime. I would rather it stay the way it is. . . unless a legitimate company like BONES undertakes its animation. The art was incredibly well done. I wouldn’t expect anything less from a veteran artist like himself. I appreciate good art, though it may seem rather strange to call a Japanese “comic” series incredibly artistic.

I wholeheartedly suggest, especially if you are an anime or mange fan, to read this story. I believe it is a masterpiece. Will people disagree with me? Probably. I have my own personal standards and ways of determining artistic genius. These are extended, but not limited to, books like Les Miserable, movies like Nosferatu and even obscure Japanese manga like Psyren. It is my belief that in finding these beautiful masterpieces we are able to come closer to understanding the power behind inborn human genius and creativity.



Sakurako: Thank You.

Ageha: What for?

Sakurako: Thank you for being with me when I need help.

Ageha: I remember when we were in grade school. Mum died and you were with me when I was down. Consoling me always. It was you who chose to stay with me.

Thinking about this, I have actually loved you since then. But somehow I forgot the feeling. . . I . . . I started fighting others everyday and changed so much, before I met you again. Then that day when I chased after you after I heard you say “help” when you went away. . . and came to know psyren. . . I think I finally realized how I feel now. I loved and still love you. So let me protect you, Amamiya! You happened to be down now and its my turn to cheer you up!

Sakurako: . . . Yes.

Ageha narration: Since we connected at the hands Amamiya’s emotions were conveyed directly. . . . Amamiya kept crying. . . and I stayed with her still holding her hand. We said not a word more. . . we know our feelings.


The Thief and the Cobbler (1993?) An Unfinished Masterpiece


Aaaaa1UPDATE!: On June 1, 2014, “A Moment in Time” was screened in London, with many of the original crew present of his original vision and work prints. Hopefully there might have been plans to re-release it in the United States.




This one of the hardest reviews that I will ever write. Since I was young, this has been my family’s movie (we can quote it from beginning to end). It has brought a lot of joy and laughs for us, but as much as I love what this movie has meant to me throughout my life I can’t ignore what this film could have become and its tragic history. Recently a documentary called Persistence of Vision was released in 2012 which told the story of the long, almost 30- year production of this film and how its director,  Richard Williams, intended it to become his masterpiece. After he was dismissed from his own project Warner Bros. hired another director Fred Calvert to patch it up, in order to make it more marketable, and as a result it was morphed into a cheap knockoff of Disney’s Aladdin. After learning all these facts I heard that a “Recobbled” version of the film had been released under a non-profit organization in 2006 and I decided to watch it and see for myself if it truly is a masterpiece.

It is easy to assume that this film copies Aladdin‘s plot. After watching the film as it was intended I would have to disagree. In my opinion the plot for The Thief and the Cobbler is superior to Aladdin‘s. It feels like an old Arabian Tale rather than an engineered blockbuster. The Arabian Nights (One Thousand and One Nights) are a combination of tales that date back to ancient or medieval times collected and modified during the Islamic Golden Age. This film’s plot follows a similar rhythm and flow that persists throughout all these tales. It’s purpose is to entertain of course but through a more traditional Eastern style than many are used to because of hyped up American films. It depicts a battle between good and evil and most importantly a hero who comes from the humblest of origins, destined to save the Golden City by the simplest of means. What makes it superior to Aladdin is how it uses these simple plot elements that play homage to traditional Arabian storytelling to drive the story and not to popular media.


I like each of the character’s individuality and distinct personalities. I have seen so many articles and pictures complaining about their similarities to (again) Aladdin‘s characters and I can’t understand it. None of them, except perhaps Princess Yum Yum, are copy cut-outs of any Disney’s characters from Aladdin.

Tack the cobbler, my favorite character, changed the most by the end of the film. In the beginning, he is depicted as a shy, white skinned, thin young man with hardly any heroic potential, at least in the eyes of those around him. By chance, or perhaps providence, he is taken to the palace to be executed and there he falls in love with the princess Yum Yum, who saved his life from the vizier Zigzag. As I watched him grow I came to love him for his gentleness, purity, and courage. He doesn’t speak till the very end of the movie so his personality was portrayed through his eyes, movements and comically by the tacks he kept in his mouth. For me, not hearing him speak made his transformation from a homely cobbler into a prince more realistic and in a way mystical. When he finally spoke at his wedding to Princess Yum Yum it was as if, suddenly, I realized the great person he had become. This isn’t to say that I don’t like how he was in the film released in 1993, however I think the “Recobbled” version of Tack is more endearing.

Zigzag is an interesting villain to listen to and watch. Voiced by the famous Vincent Price, who recorded his part in the early 1970’s, he like many other villains in films, has the most personality. He talked in rime the entire film and stood out the most because of his curious appearance (for example his toes are extraordinarily long and roll out when he walks) and his quirky mannerisms.

Princess Yum Yum is a very likable character because of her spunky attitude and independent nature. I like the romance between her and Tack because of how simple it is. It is cute to see them blush when he is fixing her shoe and to see how much she loves him without focusing solely on physical encounters and appearances. The only thing I don’t like about her in this version is the voice they chose for her. Besides that I have nothing against her.

Lastly (for time’s sake), the Thief is one of the funniest characters I have ever seen. I was actually disappointed at first when they didn’t put in all of his funny comments delivered by Ed E. Carroll in the 1993 version. This wasn’t a problem for me later in the film but I will probably keep watching the other version just so I can hear his old lines. He is the least involved in the initial story line but he plays one of the most important parts because his actions set into motion critical events. First, when he throws Tack out of his shop, which causes Tack to be arrested; second when he steals Yum Yum’s shoe, which causes Tack to eventually be thrown into prison by Zigzag; third when he steals the golden balls for the first time and fulfills part of the prophesy talked of in the beginning; fourth when he steals the balls back from One-Eye and helps restore order to the Golden City. 

cobbler 9

The animation is breathtakingly beautiful (see above). To be honest, I had never really paid attention to it until I watched this version. In fact I used to laugh with my family about how weird it looked (like in the chase scene between the cobbler and the thief). It is a shame because Richard Williams animation style is masterful. One sequence that grasped my attention was at the beginning when Tack was in the dungeon fiddling with string. As he finished his creation the golden threads flowed down into the image of the princess. I looked at it very carefully and I wondered how long it took them to animate such a simple yet intricate scene. Other parts of the film, like the above mentioned chase scene, reminded me of old Islamic mosaics that I saw in my history class (Islamic History Muhammad – The Crusades) and at times when I looked closely the imagery was purposefully animated to create optical illusions. I wonder what this movie would have looked like if Richard Williams was able to finish it. As it is, I love watching the animation and I believe it is one of the greatest artistic achievements of our time. The only thing I found hard to follow were the sudden transitions from the finished animated sequences to unfinished pencil drawings. Seeing that no one has been able to finish this film completely, I didn’t mind.

I was so surprised when the music started because it was nothing like the score used in the film I grew up with. Yet it seemed to fit better. In the beginning especially I marveled at how gorgeous it was. Not much is said about the music but I think it played an important role in transforming this film. As a musician I don’t know how to adequately describe this. To put it simply, the feeling or timbre of the music completely changed how I perceived this film. From what I could hear, most of what was taken out of the 1993 version was replaced by more classical sounding music. I actually admired this modification because it changed the film from being the knock-off people think it is to something much deeper. I was also kind of glad that they didn’t have those sing-a- long songs (though I will probably always love them).

I love this film. After watching this version I can say with a surety that it has become one of my all-time favorites. Would I recommend this film to others? Only if you are a fan of traditional animation. Watch this film if you want to see for yourself why they call this film a masterpiece. I hope that in the future someone will finish what Richard Williams started and give it the credit it deserves.



1993 Version:

The Thief: Rule number one: Keep your eye on the wire and have feet like a monkey. Rule number two: It’s always good to wear underwear when you’re up this high, otherwise you could attract a sizable crowd. That brings us to rule number three. Rule number three… what’s rule number three? I always forget rule number three. Rule number one: eyes and feet, rule number two: underwear. 

Original Cut/ Recobblered Version:

[last lines]

[original version]

Princess Yum-Yum: I love you.

[Tack takes the tacks from his mouth at last and speaks for the first time]

Tack the Cobbler: And I love you.

[they embrace and kiss]

The Hobbit or There and Back Again (1937)

The Hobbit  I remember reading this book when I was thirteen and I don’t recall being impressed by it. This was most likely because I loved the Lord of the Rings trilogy and Tolkien’s other complicated works like The Silmarillion. The book probably was too simple for me to fully appreciate at such a young age. Yes, I know that doesn’t make sense but that was what I was like when I was a child. I read the book again about two weeks ago after watching The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug. So many fans of the book have criticized the new movies because supposedly Peter Jackson made it too dark or has taken too many “creative liberties”. I will give my reviews on the Hobbit movies later but for now I want to focus on  the original first novel of J.R.R Tolkien who, in my opinion, is the greatest fantasy author of all time.


The plot for this novel follows the literary pattern called “The Heroes Journey” or the monomyth. Many stories have followed this cycle, some you wouldn’t even think of. Some examples that I can think of from the top of my head include The Odyssey  by Homer, George Lucas’s Star Wars , the Mesopotamian written work The Epic of Gilgamesh, and Michael Dante DiMartino and Bryan Konietzko’s Avatar the Last Airbender (the animated series not the movie). There is a fairly flexible pattern that the story must follow, the three most important aspects being Departure, Initiation and Return. A more simplified model of the monomyth looks somewhat like this:

  1. Ordinary World
  2. Call To Adventure
  3. Refusal of the Call
  4. Meeting With The Mentor
  5. Crossing The First Threshold
  6. Tests, Allies, Enemies
  7. Approach
  8. Supreme Ordeal
  9. Reward
  10. The Road back
  11. Resurrection
  12. Return With Elixir

(If you are interested I have left multiple links for any questions you may have.) Moving on, I believe that The Heroes Journey represents progression or a needed change, either for the hero, for those around them, or both. I think in the first movie the conversation between Gandalf and Bilbo before they started their journey best embodies this idea.

Gandalf:  You’ll have a tale or two to tell of your own when you come back.

Bilbo Baggins: …Can you promise that I will come back?

Gandalf: No. And if you do… you will not be the same.

The hardest part of life is learning to change and, more importantly, to take the steps necessary to allow that change to happen. Wisdom and understanding then come depending on how we react to the challenges and opportunities we are presented with. Bilbo was content at the beginning of the story to never change and live a simple life separated from what was away from the shire and the comforts of his home. However, that changed once he SAW the world, became a part of something bigger and stepped up as a leader and motivator.

There are other elements of the story that are equally important, such as the nature of greed and the corruptible effect the treasure hoard had on those who were exposed to it. I found it compelling to see how in the end all the armies who were about to fight each other over the treasure united when they were faced with destruction by a fifth army of goblins and wargs. Evil was shown then to come from within as well as in a tangible physical force. Each needed to be fought and defeated in order to find peace and contentment.


I find the characters in this story to be intriguing and real. Some are there only to help Bilbo and the others on their journey, like Beorn the skin changer and Elrond from Rivendale. Bilbo, our hero, learned and grew possibly faster and better than his companions. Though he was the most inexperienced, Bilbo became the one who led the group and made the important decisions (after Gandalf left) and he remained unaffected by the treasure, though it seemed to corrupt almost all who looked upon it. Tolkien wrote “All the same Mr. Baggins kept his head clear of the bewitchment of the hoard better than the dwarves did. Long before the dwarves were tired of examining the treasures, he became weary of it and began to wonder nervously what the end of it would be.” (Chapter 13).

The other characters like the dwarves, especially Thorin, took a lot longer to learn from their mistakes and see things clearly. Thorin allowed himself to become consumed by his greed, going as far as to banish Bilbo from the company though Bilbo had saved his life and the the lives of the others many times. Though he was the heir to the throne he didn’t become the leader he needed to be until it was too late. In the end he learned from his mistakes but it cost him his life.

Smaug has intrigued me the most since I watched the second movie and read the book. He represents evil, of course, and is possibly the embodiment of the evil that is born from greed. To me though, he shows the true nature of evil. Evil isn’t stupid. It is conniving, intelligent, malicious, and well aware of its nature. That is something that I have come to appreciate in Tolkien’s works. Not only does he show the true nature of evil embodied by creatures who have become consumed and controlled by its power but also that good men can change by willingly choosing to follow it. Along side it though are those who are willing to fight against it like Bard from Laketown and those who don’t allow themselves to be controlled by it like Bilbo.


There is something so endearing about this story. Many have called Tolkien’s writing style boring or overbearing but I think that he is one of the few who was able to write so thoroughly and yet retain a feeling of enchantment in his stories. The Hobbit is different then his other works however, because it was originally written for children. It is a story that takes them on an adventure, where they fight against evil, defeat it, and return to the comforts of home. It also teaches important lessons like change and overcoming temptation. I will say this often but just because a work is written for children doesn’t mean that it is childish. It merely simplifies things and makes it easier to understand the story, its characters, and the lessons that are meant to be learned.

I finished this book in less then two days. I couldn’t put it down. I find it somewhat amusing to think that I enjoyed this book more when I became an adult then I did when I was a child. It is a shame. Despite my lack luster opinion of the book as a child, I look forward to reading this book to my children. I want to them to experience the same enchanting world presented in this book that I have experienced and now come to cherish. Even if they are like me and don’t absorb this story in childhood, hopefully they will come to appreciate its magic in time.




“There is more in you of good than you know, child of the kindly West. Some courage and some wisdom, blended in measure. If more of us valued food and cheer and song above hoarded gold, it would be a merrier world.”
― J.R.R. TolkienThe Hobbit