#488 Howl’s Moving Castle by Diana Wynne Jones

 Howl's Moving Castle by Diana Wynne Jones Howl’s Moving Castle by Diana Wynne Jones

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.

Overall

I’m looking forward to reading the other books by Diana.


Fitcher’s Bird

Fitcher's BirdSummary

Fitcher’s Bird is a bloody tale, so if you’re squeemish at all, you might want to skip this one.

Once upon a time there was a wizard who liked to disguise himself as a poor beggar so he could entrap young women. He carried with him a large basket. He once went to a household that had three daughters. The man begged at the door for a little food. The oldest daughter was going to give him some bread, but she had barely touched him when she was forced into the man’s basket.

He took the young woman back to her house and told her, “My darling, you will certainly be happy with me, for you have everything your heart can wish for.” After a while the man said he had to leave. He gave the girl an egg and a key. He told her she could use the key to go into any room in the house, but one specific room. He also told her to guard the egg carefully.

The young girl went into all the rooms of the house and she was going to ignore the one room in particular, but curiosity got the best of her and she opened the door with the key. Inside she saw a great vat of blood. There were pieces of people everywhere. There were legs and arms all over the place. There was a large chopping block with a great silver axe. The girl was so startled that she dropped the egg into the bloody vat. She tried to get the blood off the egg, but as soon as she wiped it off, it reappeared.

The wizard came back and he saw that the girl had been in the room. He took her into the room and chopped he head off. Then he dismembered her and tossed her into the vat with all the other bodies.

He decided his next target would be the middle sister of this family. He played the same disguise. The second daughter was deceived in the same way. He brought her back to his house and one day went on a journey. He left her with the same stipulations, but the same thing happened all over again. The second daughter ended up in the vat just like the first.

The wizard decided to go back for the third daughter, but she was a smart cookie, besides getting caught in his basket in the first place. When the wizard left on his journey, the third daughter put the egg in a safe place then she peeked inside the room. Instead of being absolutely terrified, this girl found the dismembered pieces of her sisters and set them together. Once she had them all together like a puzzle piece, they reconnected and her sisters were brought back to life. They were all happy.

The wizard came back home. He demanded the key and the egg as soon as he got back. Once he saw that the egg was not bloody, he told the third daughter that she would be his wife. She acted like she was ok with this. Once he decided to take her as his wife, he no longer had power over her. She told him to take a basket of gold to her family.

Inside the basket of gold she hid her two sisters. She gave the basket to the wizard with instructions that she was going to watch him through the window to make sure he didn’t rest on the way to her family’s house.

The basket was very heavy. After a while the wizard stopped to rest, but one of the sisters inside the basket called out to him, “I am looking through my little window, and I  see that you ae resting. Will you go on at once?” He thought this was his wife-to-be saying all of this from his window, so he got a little freaked out and kept on with his journey. Every time he tried to rest, one of the sisters would call out to him to keep going.

He finally made it to the family’s house where the sisters were to bring help. In the meantime the third sister had been at the wizard’s house preparing things of her own. She prepared a feast and sent invitations to friends of the wizard. Then she found a skull which she dressed with flowers and ornaments. She set this in her window.

She then got into a barrel of honey and cut open a feather bed. She rolled all around in the feathers until she looked like a bird. She went out of the house.

Wedding guests saw he and this was what happened:

“O, Fitcher’s bird, how com’st thou here?”

“I come from Fitcher’s house quite near.”

“And what may the young bride be doing?”

“From cellar to garret she’s swept all clean,

And now from the window she’s peeping I ween.”

On he way she met the wizard, who did not recognize her. He asked her the same thing.

He happened to look up and see the skull and thought it was his bride. He smiled at her and then went into the house with all his dastardly friends. When all of the guests were in the house, the bride’s family came and barred the house. Then they set fire to it. The wizard and all of his friends died.

The End

Fitcher's BirdObservations

Well, this tale is just a bundle of sunshine isn’t it? This wizard is an outright murdering serial killer. He’s a predator and he’s awful. He’s not even a sexual predator he just likes to dismember people, which probably makes him one of the worst kind’s of predators there can be. He’s a classic predator though. He uses a disguise to entrap his victims. That’s how predators do it. They may not all dress as Barney the Purple Dinosaur or be looking for a lost puppy, but all predators have some sort of disguise. It just may not be an actual physical disguise. They might disguise their personality. They might disguise their voice. They might disguise their face or their clothes. These people never go after prey in their true states.

The egg, let’s talk about the egg. I have heard of an egg in reference to a baby in multiple instances. There are class assignments where you get an egg and have to take care of it for a certain period of time as if it were a baby. If your egg gets cracked you’re screwed. You get an F. Now, there are other more folkloric types of stories that do equate an egg for a baby. The egg symbolizes a baby. A baby is small and cannot take care of itself. In that sense it doesn’t matter if you say “egg” or “baby”.

Remember how in Jude the Obscure by Thomas Hardy, that Jude’s first wife, well, his only wife uses an egg to trick him into some naughty things? Was it just an egg? No, it was a symbol. It was a symbol for what she was trying to trick him into. She was trying to get herself knocked up, if you know anything about the book.

This is the question you have to keep in your mind…was this really an egg or was it a baby? Hopefully, you don’t drop a baby in a bloody vat of dismembered body parts.

There is also this idea that an egg is pure in some sense. It’s this cocoon that shields the insides from the world around it, but it can still absorb the outside world.

Just to be really “out-there” interpretation…what if the egg was not an egg, but a baby that was still in its mother’s womb, the mothers being the captive girls? What if all this blood is not just blood, but also symbolizing that these women had miscarriages thus losing the trust and faith of the wizard who then killed them? You may think that’s really weird, but think about some of the crimes in history in which terrible things were done to women because they couldn’t carry a baby to term or they had a baby of the wrong sex. Just think about. Terrible things have happened to these women. For a long time and, honestly, still today, a woman’s fertility ruled her value in society. We’re supposed to be past all that bull-crap by the way, but we’re not. What if this man is finding wife after wife, but none of them are bearing him a child? Does that sound familiar? It kind of reminds me of a man named Henry VIII.

Fitcher's BirdThemes

You cannot hide from your misdeeds. Eventually you will be punished and sometimes, quite cruelly. A couple of posts ago, or so, we talked about this mob mentality that people can have. We talked about the people in The Robber Bridegroom who put the smack-down on the would-be groom and his den of murdering thieves. These were average people, but when you messed with one of their own, they turned on you and they weren’t nice about it. That’s what happens in this story.

We discussed the idea that people hate that you committed a crime under their nose. They hate it. They will not be kind to you if they get a chance to take you down. You have no only harmed someone they know, you have made them doubt themselves. How could this terrible thing be going on right next door and no one have any idea about it? People get mad. They get angry. You hurt little Susie and you made them lose faith in themselves. You’ve just screwed everybody over. You have doubly offended them.

Because you have doubly offended these people they aren’t going to read you your Miranda rights and use their tax dollars to give you nice stay in prison. No. They are going to flay your skin off while you’re still alive. They going to burn you with cigarettes. They’re going to Chinese water torture you and other terrible things. Remember that awful machine from The Princess Bride? They’re going to use that on you.

The way they see it, you gave up your chance for any kind of civil punishment not when you abducted the three young women, but when you abducted the three young women under their noses. Making a person doubt themselves in a huge crime, psychologically. In logical terms, it’s not as bad as abducting three young women, but you’re throwing all logic out the window if you decided to do something terrible like that in the first place.

One more thing, sometimes when you do something bad, you bring your own punishment. This man carries his punishment on his back. He carries it and it’s heavy. There are a lot of criminals who tell on themselves. They may not do it intentionally, but it’s often the case.

Overall

This story is gross. I am not a bloody-gore person at all. You guys can go watch your splatter-porn all you want to, but I’m going to stick to British television and Spongebob Squarepants. My goodness, there were some really disgusting tales floating around back in the day. This reminds me of the version of Red Riding Hood from the eighties. It’s quite bloody.

P.S. is Fitcher the wizard?