I’ve seen the movie based on this book quite a few times and I love it. I think it’s an absolutely wonderful movie. Yes, it’s a cartoon, but I like cartoons.
This story is about Sophie, but it’s also about Howl. Sophie lives in a city in a land called Ingary. Her father has died. Her step-mother tries to find places for each of the sisters. There are three in all. Sophie is the oldest and feels she is doomed, because everyone knows that the oldest of three is always the first to fail. Lettie goes to a bakery and Martha goes to a witch to learn the trade, while Sophie stays in the hat shop. She knows how to make hats really well and she talks to them.
There are rumors floating around about a terrible man named Howl who eats young women. There are also tales of a witch called The Witch of the Waste. She is a jealous and terrible woman. There are also rumors of war floating around. There is a lost prince and many other things that plague the nations nearby.
Sophie is in the hat shop one evening when a customer comes in. Sophie finds that it’s The Witch of the Waste. She doesn’t like Sophie at all. She says she’s heard of her and what she does. She puts a curse on Sophie. Sophie goes from being a young woman to being an old woman. She decides that she has to leave. There is no use for an old woman in a hat shop.
She hikes and hikes. She finds being an old woman makes her more out-spoken to the people she crosses. She frees a scarecrow from a hedge. She also frees a dog stuck to a stick. She takes the stick. It becomes her companion. Finally she comes upon Howl’s castle; it moves; everyone talks about it. The castle door opens for her and she goes in.
There is a strange fire on the hearth. It seems to have a face, in fact, it does have a face. It’s name is Calcifer. There is also a boy there named, Michael, a teenager really. He’s Howl’s apprentice. Howl isn’t in at the moment. Sophie makes up some story to stay and wait on Howl, but she also makes a deal with Calcifer, who is a fire demon. Calcifer says that if she breaks the curse on him, he will break the curse on her; he can tell right away that Sophie is cursed.
Howl does come back and Sophie ingratiates herself as the new cleaning lady. She does clean, a lot. Howl is a drama queen as it turns out and he does not eat young girls. He merely makes them fall in love with him and then dumps them. He has a special door out of his castle. It goes to several different places. They’re the main cities in the land.
Howl is pulled between several different directions. One king wants him to be his royal wizard. Another person wants this. The Witch of the Waste wants Howl and tries every which way to get a curse to him. Sophie knows she must break the curse on Calicifer before she the curse gets to Howl. Along the way Sophie finds she is quite magical herself. Her stick is not just a stick. Her hats were never just hats. The sewing she puts into Howl’s clothing charms his suits.
Sophie learns that Howl really isn’t such a bad guy and the deal he made with Calcifer will eventually pull him apart. The Witch of the Waste is still out there somewhere, but Howl’s curse finally manages to be broken as well as Sophie’s.
What I liked
I think this book is just great. It’s got so much more to it than the movie does. I still love the movie, but this book is neat. I really like that Howl is from our world. He’s not from this magical world. He’s a mere Earthling who happened to find himself in a magical land and become a wizard/warlock/whatever.
There is a lesson in this book. It’s about not letting bad decisions rule you. Howl made a decision to catch a falling star. He made a deal with it. In return, Howl didn’t have a heart. He wanted to create the feeling of love with all of his pursuits of women, but it never turned out. Once he felt he had their love, he left. He couldn’t stay because he couldn’t love any of them back. He wasn’t a terrible person. He could be kind and he could do nice things, but he lacked the fundamental ability to actually love someone because he pretty much made a deal with the Devil, not that Calcifer is much of a devil. If Calcifer is a devil, he’s a pretty wimpy devil; this doesn’t mean that Calcifer doesn’t have great power, because he does, it means that Calcifer is more mild-mannered than any devil ever would be.
This decision wasn’t smart on Howl’s part. He traded such a large piece of himself because he felt sorry for Calcifer. Sure, you can feel sorry for someone, but you shouldn’t give away yourself to them just because you feel sorry. You’re supposed to do good in the world without giving away everything that you are. You still need to be you. If you want to give away everything and move to Africa to help starving children, do so, but remember to keep those parts of you that are you. You still need to have all the abilities you had before. You cannot give away your ability to have compassion or be creative for any one person or cause.
Drawing a parallel to real life, when I was researching Sherlock Holmes and all the things within the stories, I found the claim that Sherlock’s grandmother was the sister of French artist named Vernet. I proved that this in no way could be the case because Vernet’s sister was guillotined during the French Revolution. The sad thing about this is that after his sister’s execution, Vernet gave up artwork. He never created anything again. That’s really sad. Sure, your sister is dead, but you have to move on with your life. He gave away this one big passion in his life over the grief of one person. Maybe there were more circumstances involved, but from what I found his sister’s death was the one big thing.
Vernet’s situation kind of reminds me of Howl. They both gave up this big part of themselves for one cause. It changed them; it changed who they were and how they interacted with people.
What I didn’t like
Howl reminds me very much of Sherlock from Sherlock. It’s the same sort of thing going on. I’m very smart. I’m above other people. I can play with people’s emotions. Howl plays with a heck of a lot of girls’ hearts. He’s incredibly intelligent, so much so that he has a doctorate degree in the real world. Sophie’s description of him being a slither-outer is very apt. He is a slither-outer. He leaves when things get rough because he gave away his ability to handle it.
The whole reason I don’t like how Howl is like Sherlock is that Sherlock kind of rubs me the wrong way. I do admire the character, but there are dubious things about him that nobody has the answer to. We don’t really know his true intentions or his true self. The television show does make him to be more human, any film depiction of a character usually does that, but in the series, he doesn’t have that much humanity in many ways. I have exhausted my patience for Sherlock at this point. He’s the type of personality that can grate on a person. So the fact that I see Sherlock in Howl is not a pleasant thought.
I’m looking forward to reading the other books by Diana.