Howl’s Moving Castle

Howl's Moving Castle (Studio Ghibli)
Howl’s Moving Castle by Studio Ghibli

Diana Wynne Jones’s adolescent novel Howl’s Moving Castle, is escapist literature, that demonstrates to readers not to accept the world as it is, seeing what could & might still be, rather than what was or must be.  The adolescent reader is assured that risk taking works out in the end when there is the ‘happily ever after’.  Jones’ happy-endings are successful because they are the logical conclusion for all the characters, given their fantastical adventures.  She writes in clear language, using characters’ actions to address characterization for her readers, assuring that they will have to get into the characters’ heads to understand motivations, which might not always be clear in the characters’ actions.

Howl’s Moving Castle is the story of female protagonist Sophie Hatter, who is skilled with a needle to make hats and dresses.  Unknowingly, Sophie is capable of magic, as she talks life into objects and convinces people to see things her way.  Born the eldest of three sisters, Sophie believes herself fated to an uninteresting future of running the family hat shop, after their father dies, and they learn the debt schooling the three sisters has put the family in.  To cover expenses, as Sophie’s step-mother can’t afford all three daughters to work in the shop, the two youngest daughters are sent out for apprenticeships.

The story begins with Sophie resigned to her dull fate: Working alone in the hat shop, Sophie’s younger sisters have left for their baking and witchcraft apprenticeships, while her step-mother spends the hat shop’s earnings.  That is until The Witch of the Waste enters the hat-shop, attracted by Sophie’s magical abilities & confuses her with one of Howl’s young lovers.  In jealousy and anger The Witch places a curse on Sophie that makes her into an old woman.  Sophie’s desire to break the spell and return to her rightful age brings her to the moving castle of Howl just above Market Chirping.  Being a crone, Sophie no longer fearing the rumors of Howl eating the hearts of young maidens.  Making herself useful as a cleaning lady, Sophie forces herself on the residents: fire demon Calcifer, apprentice Michael, and wizard Howl.  Sophie strikes a deal with Calcifer that if she can break the contract between Howl and himself, he will break The Witch of the Waste’s spell on Sophie.