Friday, March 6, 2015

Themes of Howl’s Moving Castle

By Jet

Just as a heads up, this text analysis will be about Howl’s Moving Castle, the book, not the movie by Miyazaki Hayao.

Howl’s Moving Castle is a book by Diana Wynne Jones, and it is about a young girl who is the eldest of three sisters, named Sophie Hatter. Sophie is extremely talented at making hats and clothes and one day, she accidentally offends the Witch of the Waste, who consequently turns her into an old lady. She hobbles off to the Wizard Howl’s moving castle because he is the only one who can break the curse. When she enters the castle she meets a fire demon named Calcifer, strikes a bargain with him, and meets Howl. She discovers that she has a powerful magical gift to ‘talk life into things’, breaks the contract between Calcifer and Howl and helps Howl defeat the Witch of the Waste. In the end, it turns out that she and Howl both fell in love with each other, and they decide to live ‘happily ever after’ together. Of course, with someone as vain as Howl and someone as stubborn as Sophie it can never be a perfect fairy tale.  This story is the anti-thesis to all fairy tales in which the damsel in distress is saved by a handsome prince who can do no wrong, and they live in perfect happiness for ever after. It also brings up a few interesting themes.


Sophie Hatter constantly tells herself that she is never going to amount to anything because she is the eldest. Even as an old lady, she makes remarks like  ‘“It may be the curse hovering to catch up with Howl,” she sighed to the flowers, “but I think it’s being the eldest, really. Look at me! I set out to seek my fortune and I end up exactly where I started, and old as the hills still!” (ch 18 pg 342)

As well as ‘“I’m the eldest!” Sophie shrieked. “I’m a failure!”’ (ch 21 pg 416)

Sophie is convinced that all the mistakes she makes are because of her being the eldest. She thinks that she is not pretty and that she will never amount to anything solely due to the circumstances of her birth. This may be because  “In the land of Ingary, where such things as seven-league boots and cloaks of invisibility really exist, it is quite a misfortune to be born the eldest of three. Everyone knows you are the one who will fail first, and worst, if the three of you set out to seek your fortunes.” (ch1 pg 1) But this is actually proven wrong when it turns out that Sophie is the one with a strong magical gift, and she ends up marrying the famous Wizard Howl.


Calcifer:  “You need some courage up in ‘ere”

Courage is an integral part of Sophie’s journey, because she is terribly timid in the beginning and doesn’t even stand up to her own stepmother, who uses her to make hats and doesn’t pay her a wage even though the hat shop is very prosperous solely due to Sophie’s efforts. This can be seen in Sophie and Howl’s first encounter on May Day.

“The girls strolled in fine pairs, ready to be accosted. It was perfectly normal for May Day, but Sophie was scared of that too. And when a young man in a fantastical blue-and-silver costume spotted Sophie and decided to accost her as well, Sophie shrank into a shop doorway and tried to hide.” (ch1 pg 19)

When she is turned into an old lady she is a lot bolder, because she feels like she has the right to certain things due to her age and that she has a lot more life experience. Later on, she faces the Witch of the Waste head-on and manages to defy her.

Howl embodies an element of courage which is quite contrary to the conventional definition. The stereotypical ‘courageous hero’ is usually someone who isn’t afraid to battle dragons and face his fears head-on. Howl, on the other hand, is more realistic. He has to deceive himself into believing he isn’t doing something to make himself do it.

"Not likely!" Howl yelled. “I’m a coward. Only way I can do something this frightening is to tell myself I’m not doing it!”’ (ch 21 pg 415)

Howl has convinced himself that he is a terrible coward but he is actually quite brave. He only tells himself that he is a coward so that he can get out of responsibility and ‘slither out’. This is akin to everyday situations in which people tell themselves they’re not really going to do something, they’re not really going to get on that rollercoaster, while they wander up and stand in line. It’s the same principle, except taken to the extreme. The author herself states in an interview:

“The fact is that he is quite brave in some directions and only frightened when he is face to face with someone whose powers are equal to his own. Then he has to trick himself into dealing with them.”

I think that this is a very human type of courage, in which being courageous isn’t a complete absence of fear, but feeling that fear and being able to proceed anyway. Howl is a very true-to-life character because he has human emotions and so many faults that he hardly fits into the mould of a traditional hero. This allows readers to identify with him and thus, endears him to them.

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