October 15, 2020 7:54 AM EDT

Mysterious curses, duelling magicians, an empowered young female lead: Howl’s Moving Castle by Diana Wynne Jones, first published in the U.S. in 1986, has all the elements of a classic young adult fantasy novel. Yet the British author, who has been credited with inspiring more recent entries into the fantasy canon like Neil Gaiman’s 1991 comic book mini-series, The Books of Magic, imbued her humorous story of a young witch’s journey of self-discovery with wildly original details and deeply flawed characters that elevate it beyond a simple coming-of-age tale. Rather than fight the curse that gives her the appearance (and the aches and pains) of an old woman, 18-year-old Sophie chooses to protect her sisters from the predations of a notorious lady-killing wizard by becoming his housekeeper. But not all is as it seems in the wizard Howl’s castle. Doors open into parallel worlds, the hearth fire has an attitude and Howl spends several hours a day primping in the bathroom, letting his apprentice do all the work. Meanwhile, the castle maintains a peripatetic existence, running from curses as much as from Howl’s cast-off lovers. Adapted into an Academy-Award nominated animated feature by Japanese director Hayao Miyazaki in 2004, Howl’s Moving Castle enjoyed a resurgence in popularity, earning the 2006 Phoenix Award from the Children’s Literature Association, which recognizes overlooked gems from the past. —Aryn Baker

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