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Diana Wynne Jones was a british fantasy writer that enjoyed a high level of success during her lifetime. She left the world not so long ago (in 2011), leaving us several series and stand alone novels for children and adults. Some of her best known characters are Sophie and Howl, who have many adventures in a magical world which exists in parallel with our own. The adaptation of their first novel to an animated movie by Hayao Miyazaki and Studio Ghibli brought the tale to a colorful life. The movie Howl no ugoku Shiro won several prizes around the world, expanding even more the fame of the magical couple.
Diana Wynne Jones had a gift for humor that was translated in the peculiar interactions of Sophie and Howl. With chaotic moments followed by sentimental pauses or serious conversations, the movie by Studio Ghibli succeeds in fleshing the couple out. Their adventures together, told in a rather short time, are brought to life in a surprisingly authentic and enchanting way. But let’s see exactly why Sophie and Howl have an unusual love story!
1. Because Sophie is an unlucky girl.
At the beginning of the movie, Sophie Hatter is convinced that she is an ordinary girl and that nothing exciting will ever happen in her life. Sophie is a young lady with long, brown hair carefully arranged in a braid and passes her days working very hard in the hat shop owned by her family. This is a rather dull choice for a young woman living in a country where magic exists. Even her clothes have dull colors! But what happens when Sophie decides to sneak out from work for once to visit her sister? She encounters some rude militars with evil intentions of molesting her ¬¬
It is in this moment when a handsome wizard grabs Sophie and takes her to a stroll in the sky, landing in the safety of her sister’s workplace. That was a dreamy encounter, don’t you think? So how come we say Sophie is unlucky? Well, just when our protagonist goes back to the Hat shop, a powerful witch transforms her into a granny for daring to attract the attention of the handsome wizard. Poor Sophie is not having a good day u.u
2. Because Howl is a heartless wizard
There is a curious looking castle with long legs parked not far from Sophie’s town. The owner of the castle is the handsome blond wizard who saved her from the military: Howl Pendragon. Howl is a guy surely grabs attention wherever he goes, as he dresses in vivid colors and wears showy ornaments. But what is most important about Howl are the several rumors that circulate about his life, especially about his great power and womanizing manners. Some people even say that Howl eats the hearts of young women.
After she was cursed and transformed into an old lady, Sophie assumes that she won’t be in great danger if she encounters the wizard. Howl even might know how to turn her back to a girl, so Sophie decides to enter the castle. There she will find out that Howl is not half as evil as the rumors say… I mean, no one who feeds you a healthy breakfast instead of kicking you out from his property could be considered evil, right? Nevertheless, Howl is hiding many secrets. His eyes are also somewhat cold and distant. So, to which extent is it true that he is a heartless wizard?
3. Because Howl and Sophie live together.
Sophie stays in the moving castle as the cleaning lady, with the secret mission of finding out how to break the contract between Howl and his fire demon, Calcifer. For a “dark” wizard, Howl proves to be a rather curious family man. Besides having Calcifer and Sophie, the castle housess Howl’s apprentice Markl, the dog Heen, and the Witch of the Waste. Yes, the witch who cast the spell on Sophie loses her powers, so she comes to live with them. Thus, to accommodate everyone, Howl has to make a pretty cool show of magic. He even gives Sophie a flower shop and a room to make hats!
The daily life interactions of Sophie and Howl tend to be hilarious. He first sends her to the king to make excuses for him, as Howl does not want to participate in the war. On her way there, Sophie confuses Howl with a dog (Heen) she carries all the way upstairs to meet with the king (lol). But besides being a coward, Howl can also be capricious sometimes. When Sophie cleans the whole castle and mixes the cosmetics in Howl’s bathroom, he throws a magical tantrum that ends up in Sophie accidentally seeing him naked (lol again).
4. Because Sophie turns out to have magic too!
Despite being an old lady, Sophie could do pretty cool stuff beyond being a house cleaner. For example, she escaped the palace of the king of Ingary in an airplane. Sophie also helps Markl with the magical apothecary, but her biggest moment in Howl’s Moving Castle is when the war reaches the city where the Moving Castle is hidden. Noticing that Howl was going to fight to protect them, she moves out everyone from the Castle, including Calcifer.
By this point, Sophie is so worried about Howl that she doesn’t realize the spell that kept her as a granny is wearing off. She feeds her silver hair to Calcifer in order to build an improvised vehicle that the former Castle inhabitants use to search for Howl. Only that the Witch of the Waste realizes that Howl’s heart is inside Calcifer and grabs it, starting to burn herself. Panicking, Sophie pours water in both of them, destroying the vehicle and nearly killing the poor demon. Fortunately, she begs the Witch to give her Howl’s heart, and revives both the wizard and Calcifer.
Finally, Sophie gives a kiss to the scarecrow that was following them throughout the adventure and… presto! He was turned back into a prince. A normal human wouldn’t have been able to do all of this. Surprise! Sophie is a witch too!
5. Because they were in love the whole time
It is pretty obvious that Howl and Sophie liked each other from the beginning. They had chemistry since the sky stroll, don’t you think the same? Nevertheless, Sophie’s granny appearance didn’t count for Howl because he was able to see beyond the spell. This is noted when he arrives late one night and watches Sophie sleeping. Howl actually tells her that she is beautiful when they are talking in the field of flowers. Sophie insists that she is a good for nothing, except for cleaning. But in this scene, we can see that Howl thinks she is truly brilliant. The problem is that Sophie hasn’t realized that yet.
Sophie also admits she loves Howl indirectly when she says all his virtues in front of the king, with shiny eyes. She even appears young for some seconds. Sophie also screams that she loves Howl in a nightmare where she watches him being consumed by his “monstrous” self. Actually, when Sophie finds him in his half bird form in the middle of the war, she is not scared or repelled by him. So, she also does not care about his appearance. Their love was strong and that was what prevailed till the end.
The magic of Hayao Miyazaki and Diana Wynne Jones proved to be a winning combo. Sophie’s screen time as a granny was one of the longest for any film in history! That speaks loads about what we think about “old heroines”. But behind appearances, we notice how feeling old and dull is worse than looking old. After becoming a granny, Sophie takes the challenges she didn’t dare before. By going away from her comfort zone, she was also able to find her true self. Magic was inside of her the whole time, it was just that she didn’t realize it. And if magic comes along with a handsome, caring and powerful wizard, the better. Don’t you think the same? 😉
On the other hand, Howl is the opposite representation. He is good looking but coward and disengaged. Howl’s powers, although big, made him slowly lose humanity. If not for Sophie, he would have become a monster in the end. It is through their interactions that Howl finds a reason to live, which will keep him connected with his humanity for enough time for Sophie’s magic to act.
Which was your favorite scene with Sophie and Howl? Would you like other Studio Ghibli films about their adventures? Don’t forget that we are open to all your comments and suggestions. See you soon!