Finding Howl

“That boy is dangerous. His power is too great for one with no heart.”

– Madam Suliman

Howl01Howl is a young wizard with a reputation. His moving castle is known by everyone and he is known for attracting young women and tearing their hearts out (although the audience never sees him do such a thing). The audience learns quickly that he is good looking and a bit of a lady’s man who’s “only after beauties.” Despite the fact, Howl doesn’t reveal his name to Sophie when they first meet there is no other wizard it could be that took her flying through the air.

It is suggested and seen throughout the film that Howl is a very powerful wizard as Suliman notes he was “a student of such Howl02marvelous gifts.” He has a fire demon controlling the movement of his home, and recognizes powerful sorcery such as when The Witch of the Waste leaves a note for him in Sophie’s pocket. Whenever Howl uses magic, his appearance grows darker, almost more sinister. As we see him Howl03fighting in asiren/harpy-like form, we realize he is slowly losing his humanity whenever he uses powerful, dark magic. The further into the film and into Howl’s world we travel, the more we see it harder for Howl to revert back into a human, and it takes great effort and pain each time. His talk with Calcifer one night tells us that if a witch or wizard takes on an animal or monster form for too long, it is hard to return to
being human as the individual forgets how to be human. It is only thanks to Sophie’s love for Howl10Howl that he is able to combat this problem and return to human form in the end. This pull between man and the beast within is a part of Howl’s identity as a wizard; he knows the risks but to do what needs to be done, he continues to do so anyway. Howl’s beast side may allow him to fly and to protect those he loves later but it pulls his humanity from him as he does not even respond to a kiss but stares blankly ahead. The return of his heart, marks the return of his humanity, thanks to Sophie and her love for him.

Howl’s personality is over the top dramatic, childish, and carefree more often than not. He kind-heartedly tells Sophie “try not to torment my friend” when she nearly let’s Calcifer go out. He fondly looks in on Sophie when she is sleeping. Yet when Sophie mixes up the bottles and ruins the spells in the bathroom, he comes screaming and panicking down the stairs showing her the colour of his hair. He cries about how hopeless it is and that “I’m done for. What’s the point in living if you aren’t beautiful?” Howl is not only being dramatic but also vain. He thinks Howl05being beautiful is the only point to life. In his depression, he calls on the spirits of darkness and his skin secretes a green liquid. Sophie says, “my, he’s dramatic” and that he was acting like a child having a tantrum. It seems the incident is soon forgotten as Howl never returns his now black hair back to blond.

Howl also admits to being a coward. The Witch of the Waste scares him to death and thus why he tries to keep her away. He only approached her originally because she was interesting, she terrified him and he ran away. It is also his cowardliness that causes him to get Sophie to go to Madam Suliman in his place to tell her that he is “an idle, good-for-nothing.” It is Sophie’s speech about who Howl is that allows the audience to see what Sophie thinks of him and how she feels about him; she says, “You call Howl Howl08heartless. Yes, he’s selfish and cowardly and unpredictable, but he’s straight as an arrow. He only wants to be free. Howl won’t turn into an evil monster. He’ll battle the demon on his own. I believe in him.” This simply gets Suliman to see his weakness which is Sophie. Yet it is Sophie that makes him be courageous. She gave him courage to show up to face Suliman and to protect the family when Suliman figures out where they are staying. He tells Sophie, “I’ve finally found someone I want to protect. You.” To Howl, Sophie is a reason to be brave, strong and protective, to be a hero.

Howl09We know Howl gave his heart up to a demon, and it is hinted at several times that Calcifer is the one who has it. He caught a falling star as a young boy, ate it thus giving up his heart and Calcifer was born. This is why he acts like a child and dramatic because he hasn’t been forced to grow up and take responsibility as he has no heart. Despite not having a heart, he is able to see Sophie’s beauty when she can’t see it for herself. He has little sympathy for other people though because he gave up his heart for freedom. He goes by the names of Pendragon and Jenkins but tells Sophie, he uses as many names as he needs to ensure his freedom. Freedom is important to Howl. So he is willing to take on as many names and thus identities as he needs to, to get what he wants. This may be why he so easily decided to take the form of a harpy/siren (half human, half bird) form because his identity is flexible and flight gives him freedom that non-wizards do not have.Howl11

In the end, Howl changes his identity for Sophie, which allows him to receive his heart back. He tells Sophie, “I feel terrible like I’m trapped under a stone” and she simply replies, “Oh, yes, a heart’s a heavy burden.” Howl had spent most of his life without a heart and once again receiving it has to learn how to think about others and care for them. This essentially saves him from becoming the monster he continually transforms into. Howl’s identity changes from selfish to selfless, from cowardly wizard to courageous hero due to Sophie’s influence and with the return of his heart changes his identity for the better because of love.

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