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Howl’s Moving Castle Sunday, August 27, 2006

Posted by j128 in Children's Literature, Fantasy.

Howl's Moving Castle

Howl's Moving Castle

Howl’s Moving Castle by British author Diana Wynne Jones was first published in 1986. It was adapted in 2004 as an animated film by Hayao Miyazaki and Studio Ghibli. See my previous post Howl’s Moving Castle (2004 film) for more information about the movie Howl’s Moving Castle.


The setting is in the fictitious magical kingdom of Ingary, where many fairy-tale tropes are accepted ways of life. Another accepted way of life is that it is a misfortune to be born the eldest of three, for everyone knows that if the three ever go out into the world to seek their fortunes the eldest will fail first.

Sophie Hatter is the eldest of three sisters, the younger two being Lettie and Martha. Sophie and Lettie were Mr. Hatter’s daughters by his first wife, and after his first wife died he married his youngest shop assistant Fanny.

The Hatters owned a family business in Market Chipping selling ladies’ hats. After Mr. Hatter died suddenly just as Sophie was old enough to leave school, Fanny plans her daughters’ futures.

Lettie becomes an apprentice to Cesari’s, the pastry cook in Market Square; Martha is apprenticed to Fanny’s old school friend Mrs. Annabel Fairfax; and Sophie would inherit the hat shop when Fanny retires as Sophie is the eldest and in the meantime becomes an apprentice to her mother.

During this time the Witch of the Waste has been rumoured to be stirring again and planning to terrorize the country. The King had ordered his personal magician, Wizard Suliman, to deal with the Witch. Unfortunately, it seemed Wizard Suliman had not only failed to deal with the Witch: he had been killed by her. So naturally people became fearful when they caught sight of a tall moving castle. It was then learned it was not the Witch of the Waste, it was Wizard Howl who was equally terrible: he was cold-blooded and sucked the souls out of beautiful young girls or ate their hearts. Because of these rumours, all the girls are warned never to go out alone.

The story really begins to happen when Sophie is magically turned into an old woman of about ninety by inadvertedly offending the Witch of the Waste.

Sophie flees Market Chipping and takes refuge at Howl’s moving castle. She hires herself as a cleaning lady and with good reason: the castle really needs it.

In the Castle she meets Calcifer, a terrifying fire demon whom she makes a bargain with to destroy the contract that binds Howl and Calcifer. She also meets Howl’s apprentice Michael Fisher, who is a teenager of about sixteen and then Sophie meets Howl himself. She realizes Howl is the same young man she had briefly met in Market Square on May Day when she went out to visit her sister Lettie at Cesari’s, a bakery.

Sophie gets to work on the Castle and cleans almost all of the Castle, despite the complaints made by the other occupants. The exceptions: the yard (b/c Howl says otherwise he will not know where his things will be for specific spells) and Howl’s bedroom (even though it is pigsty and Sophie wishes to clean it, Howl says that if he likes living in a pigsty, Sophie can’t do anything about it).

Howl turns out to be the kind of person who spends more time on himself than any other thing or person. He always comes down clean and fresh and smelling of sweet perfumes. In addition, he tries to weasel out of things by pretending to be much too busy with some other thing or any other kind of excuse he can make up.

An example of Howl’s weasling out of things is that the King had summoned Howl to find Wizard Suliman and now also called Howl to find his brother, Prince Justin, who went to the Waste to rescue Wizard Suliman, whom Prince Justin was great friends with. Howl tries to weasel out of this, but fails; he tried by talking Sophie into visiting the Palace and seeing Mrs. Pentstemmon, who trained both Wizard Suliman and Howl, and the King, but both attempts fail – though this is mostly due to the fact that upon the spot Sophie forgets everything that Howl told Sophie to say to the King and Mrs. Pentstemmon.

There are a series of adventures before and after visiting the Palace, including the fruitless attempt to carry out a peculiar spell that includes catching a falling star. Sophie and Michael do this spell together with their seven-league boots, after Howl realizes what they were trying to do he forbades Michael to ever try it. Howl won’t tell Sophie or Michael anything about the spell, but they can see it greatly upsets him.

Because of the bargain between Calcifer and Sophie, Calcifer carefully drops many hints related to the contract between Howl and Calcifer. Sophie eventually figures out what the hints mean and pieces them together.

In the end Howl defeats the Witch of the Waste and Sophie destroys the contract between Calicfer and Howl, thus freeing Calcifer and Howl back to normal. Sophie is reduced to her original age and she and Howl fall in love.


The curse that was placed upon Howl is in the form of John Donne’s poem, Song: Go and catch a falling star. Read the poem here.

For those people who have not read Howl’s Moving Castle before they saw the movie of the same name, it may be confusing (the book). The book and the movie are two different stories. The first part of the movie is based upon the book, but the rest of the movie is entirely original. One cannot relate the book and movie as one.

I am one of those people who read the book before the movie. I was not initially aware that the movie was based upon a book of the same name by Diana Wynne Jones until later. But I can’t say I like the movie better than the book or the book better than the movie; simply put, I like both of them for what they are. As I said earlier, they are their own different stories.

If you would like a more detailed article about the book Howl’s Moving Castle, read Answer.com’s article . It includes, besides the plot, Calcifer’s hints, and a small summary of Howl’s Moving Castle’s sequel: Castle in the Air. The sequel’s title is not to be confused with Hayao Miyazaki’s Castle in the Sky, which is not at all related to Castle in the Air.

*On Answers.com, regarding Howl’s Moving Castle, there are two articles: Howl’s Moving Castle (film) and Howl’s Moving Castle (2004 Fantasy Film). The latter article has the article about the book below a review of the movie and the first article contains an article about the movie only.

See Also

Howl’s Moving Castle (2004 film)



1. Michelle Ross - Wednesday, November 5, 2008

Where can I find an excerpt from the book, that depicts Howl’s mishap which hair dye, online?

j128 - Sunday, March 29, 2009

That I’m not too sure about. I don’t know where an online copy could be found – BitTorrent, maybe? The copy that I read was a physical book, so I’ll have to do some Googling.

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