An Old Curse

“They call it a castle, but once you get inside, it’s a junk heap.”

– Sophie

Howl’s Moving Castle unlike Spirited Away is based off a book by British author Diana Wynne Jones. Immediately, western audiences are able to understand the background contexts and social cues. According to Anita L. Burkam, “Miyazaki aims for a looser interpretation, starting with the plot itself…the movie portrays her as a normal girl turned by a curse into an old woman, reacting to strange events around her, more the object of the plot’s action then its protagonist”[i]. The movie may be called Howl’s Moving Castle but it is Sophie who’s perspective the story is filtered through.

 Sophie

“The good thing about being old is that you’ve so little to lose.”

– Sophie

Sophie01Sophie is an 18 year old hatter who enjoys her own company and working more than hanging out with the girls of the shop. She dresses simply and doesn’t like her appearance believing she isn’t beautiful. Before Sophie knows it, she is being swept into an adventure by a wizard who is very handsome. Her sister Lettie warns her later that if the wizard is Howl that he might have stole her heart which he is known for doing. She dismisses her sister saying that he would never be interested her, he only goes after beauties. It appears to Sophie that her Sophie03adventure is over but it is only beginning. Sophie’s life changes when her youth is stolen from her by the spell that The Witch of the Waste puts on her because the wizard she met and helped escape was Howl. She becomes an old woman with a hunched back, wrinkles, and grey hair. Her identity has changed with her aging. Her clothing choices now match her age, she notes before leaving home to go to the Wastes where wizards are.

Sophie’s journey to the Wastes is slow due to her increased age as “it’s not easy being old.” In need of a good cane, she finds a moving scarecrow that has a turnip for a head (her least favourite vegetable). Thanks to Turnip Head, she gets a cane but doesn’t want him to continue to follow so asks him to find her shelter to sleep in. Thinking she has tricked him believes she has gotten more Sophie04cunning with age.

Sophie is noticing the changes to her perception of the world from being old. She feels the cold more, has more aches and pains, moves at a slower pace and that her mind has become cunning with age. These are all changes to Sophie’s physical and mental identity that she is noticing. She is no longer the 18 year old hatter but an old woman.Sophie05

Her entry into Howl’s house, continues to show the changes that her personality are taking in such as telling the little girl that “she’s the scariest witch” in a joking way and is more forceful with her actions when she bribes Calcifer into doing what he’s told which Howl states is not an easy feat.

The audience also sees another change to Sophie when her emotions trigger, she can appear younger or at least have more energy. She starts cleaning, scaring bugs and mice out of the house as she makes the house look more presentable. Markl states, “A witch rages within” as she energetically cleans the house. When she discovers that Calcifer is actually the cause of the moving castle, she becomes excited and moves around quicker to see the outside.

 

It becomes apparent that Sophie moves back and forth between her two identities of young and old with the state of mind she is; she appears younger when she’s busy or happy or at peace like when she is asleep.

Sophie07When Howl has a tantrum over his hair colour, she gets scared and upset telling him “I’ve never once been beautiful” and runs outside into the rain where she stands crying looking younger. Admitting to never believing herself beautiful and crying makes her feel better and creates a shift in how she deals with beauty.

Sophie’s meeting with Madam Suliman, at Howl’s request, brings out bravery in Sophie that is becoming more pronounced as the story continues. She is upset that Suliman sets traps for her aged guests, can’t believe that she Sophie08would strip people of their powers and becomes passionate about who Howl is as a person, growing younger as she talks. When Suliman says she’s in love with Howl, she recoils turning old immediately. The audience begins to realize that the changes to Sophie’s identity is because of her feelings for Howl; she finds it easier to brave and wants to do anything she can to protect him.

Sophie’s love for Howl knows no bounds as she doesn’t mind if he’s a monster and is simply worried that he’ll leave her. She will do anything to help him but instead of asking for help, he goes back to trying to stop the war and she Sophie10gets frustrated with the whole place (and its craziness). It is also obvious that being in love has made her appear younger even if she’s still appearing old as she stops using a cane and is able to do tasks easier.

In the end, she knows she has to protect Howl by moving the family away from the bombs falling. She gives up her hair in order to get Calcifer to move the house again and the Witch realizes what Sophie Sophie11hasn’t; that Calcifer has Howl’s heart. Stuck between saving the Witch from burning and killing Calcifer and Howl, she pours water on them. She cries not knowing whether she killed Howl or not.

Learning of Howl and Calcifer’s past helps her understand Howl better and runs to the childhood Sophie12counterpart but the power of the ring is unable to keep her any longer in the past. She calls out to them, “Howl! Calcifer! It’s Sophie. I’ll come back. Wait for me in the future.” Through this, she is able to realize that Howl may have known who she was when he picked her up in town the first time and that he had to wait a long time for her to return to him. She gives back Howl’s his heart and manages to save Calcifer and then breaks Turnip’s curse. Sophie ends up with her happy ending with Howl.

 

Sophie’s journey causes her to change from an awkward young woman into a beautiful and strong woman. Her constantly changing identity from young and old causes a duality to her personality that helps her grow and flourish. Being old gives her a new perspective of life and opens up her personality which when young was reserved. Through this Sophie takes risks all in the name of love and for her new family. Her new found bravery allows her to save those around her and for the end to come to the foolish war. Thus Sophie’s identity changes due to the forced physical curse she is placed under which allows her to identity to change for the better.

Sophie13

End Notes

[i] Burkham, Anita L. “From Page to Screen: Hayao Miyazaki’s Howl’s Moving Castle” (The Horn Book Magazine, 2005), 554 – 555.

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