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In which I answer frequently asked questions

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Any questions related to 'HMC' is welcome, about the book or the movie, serious or just casual. Just ask, e-mail me here!

General questions
Questions on Howl's Moving Castle
Questions on Castle in the Air
Questions on House of Many Ways
Questions on the animated film Howl's Moving Castle


General

Q. Who are you?

I am a fan of Howl's Moving Castle, movie and book. It is my favourite of Miyazaki's films (Along with Spirited Away) and my favourite Diana Wynne Jones book. I think this is it - her best.

Q. What attracted you to Howl's Moving Castle when you first read it?

Honestly, the fact the heroine was called Sophie. Once I started reading it I loved how a young girl turned into an old woman could be so entertaining and I just adored Howl.

Q. What age group would you recommend this book to?

It is supposed to be a book for young adults but I'd recommend it to anyone from young children being read to by their parents to the parents themselves. There really is no age limit for this book.

Q. Is there any other couple in fiction that reminds you of Howl and Sophie?

I think they are unique. That said, I don't know why but, they have begun to remind me of Oberon and Titania in A Midsummer Night's Dream. The fact they always argue but get it right in the end.

Q. Howl is in love with Sophie but she's an old woman? It sounds wrong!

Howl is in love with Sophie for who she is not what she is. Besides, she's only eighteen, so he's the cradle-snatcher! 

It is hinted throught the book that Howl knew Sophie was really a young woman from very early on.

Howl could never (would never) get involved with a girl unless he knew or at least thought she was pretty. At first he couldn't be sure that Sophie was that pretty girl he saw on May Day but found himself falling in love with her anyway. That how he knew he was really in love that time; because he still loved her despite the fact he couldn't be sure what she looked like as well as knowing about her feelings towards the end.

In the film Howl knew she was young quite early on because Sophie changes back when she's asleep and in her dreams (Or we might just be seeing what he sees.) Besides, we see enough of her during the movie don't we.

It's like how the Beauty fell in love with the Beast. Although in the film it's hard to judge which one is the beast when the sun goes down...

Q. What is the moving castle?

The moving castle was created by Howl and Calcifer. It moves about the hills above Market Chipping on the Porthaven marshes. Unlike most castles, it moves from place to place and even has a door that opens on several different places.

At beginning of the book it opens on either Porthaven, Kingsbury, the actual location of the castle (Porthaven Marshes) and finally Wales. It is Calcifer the fire demon who operates everything in the castle from moving it, maintaining its location and making the hot water for the baths. Howl's excuse for running the great big ugly castle is that he wants to demonstate his wickedness and power to people. Most people wonder who he's trying to impress when everyone is too scared to take a look at the castle.

 

 

Howl's Moving Castle

Q. Does Howl's Moving Castle relate to any classic faeri (fairy) tales or have allusions to other works?

Howl does relate to other piece of literature. There are several references to John Donne's poetry. As well as Song: Go Catch a Falling Star it also references The Rising Sun by saying "Busy old fool, unruly Sophie..." as opposed to "Busy old fool, unruly Sun..."

It also relates to other fairytales: Sophie is an underrated daughter of three is Cinderella.
An evil witch has cursed Sophie (and Howl) is Beauty and the Beast and Sleeping Beauty. (It is also an allusion to The Wizard of Oz.) If you want to make a joke of it the fact Sophie walks into other people's homes and cleans it for them without asking relates to Snow White.

There are several references to Arthurian legends. Howl gives to Suliman is Percival, the Grail Knight of the Round Table. The name of Howl's brother-in-law is Gareth, is the same as King Arthur's youngest nephew who was knighted by Lancelot and ultimately killed by him. The name Pendragon, one of Howl's aliases, is the last name of Uther Pendragon - the father of King Arthur.

Howl's name itself is also from the Arthurian legends: Howel was the King of Brittany.

Sophie is an allusion to Arthurian literature as a loathly lady, who was a beautiful woman cursed to be old and ugly. The loathly lady often appear in literature as ugly women who convince men to marry them. The most famous is Ragnelle, who appears in the French Romance, The Marriage of Sir Gawain. In this Sir Gawain, "The Perfect Knight", agrees to marry the loathly lady to protect Arthur. On the wedding night she turns into a beautiful young woman. She asks Gawain whether he would have her beautiful by day or by night. When Gawain says that it is her choice, the curse is lifted as she was given the choice herself. This is similar to Howl's honesty about his love for Sophie despite the fact she looks like an old woman.

Q. Who is Howl?

Howell Jenkins is a young man from Wales (A country in Britain in the UK) If you want anymore infomation about Howl, check out the character profiles.

Q. Who and what is the Witch of Waste?

See character profiles.

Q. Is there an explanation for all the "magic"?

No, and there doesn't need to be one. It's a fantasy book. The book takes place in a different world to the one we live in. You wouldn't ask why a fairytale has it's theme, would you?

Q. Sophie has 'reddish straw' or 'red gold' hair, is that just a fancy way of saying ginger?

Weird question.

All red-heads are called ginger but proper gimger hair is bright orange. I think that Sophie's hair (if she describes it 'red gold') is strawberry blonde, probably looks like this:

Sophie's Hair

Q. What colour is Sophie, Lettie and Martha's eyes and hair?

Again, real weird (I was asked these questions by the same person, by the way!) 

Martha's eyes are grey and her hair is blonde.
Lettie's eyes are blue and her hair is brown.
Sophie's eyes are blue-green and her hair is red.

Q. When do you think Sophie's birthday is, and how old is she during the book?

Sophie is eighteen during the book as she was seventeen the May Day before the story begins. I'd say her birthday isn't long before that. Her year of birth is around 1968 (our world).

Q. When do you think Howl's birthday is, and how old is he during the book?

Sophie states that he is "well into his twenties". As for his birthday, if he was 10,000 days old on Midsummer Day, then you can almost calculate Howl's exact birthday.

According to the book's publication date (using this at the setting year for the events of the book), and allowing the leap years over the 27 years of his life. That puts his birthday between 27th January and 3rd February, 1959.

Q. What about everyone else's birthdays, is there any way of finding them out?

Lettie is one year younger than Sophie, so her birthday is in 1969. Martha and Michael are the same age. Michael was born 1st May 1971, and Martha is just a bit younger.

Q. How long did Howl know Sophie was really a young girl?

Probably as early as the scarecrow's second attempt to get in the castle. He'd been getting hints from Lettie, and had the idea in his head (remember he could sense some sort of spell on her) and then Martha told Michael, and Michael told Howl. Remember how Percival (Wizard Suliman) had told everything about Howl's journey to finding out about her? Lettie had told Howl that Sophie was her sister, so Howl had an idea that something was wrong (In her current state there is no way Sophie could be Lettie’s sister.)

When Sophie went to see Lettie, and Howl was there, they were both playing up to each other trying to find out about Sophie. Calcifer also told Howl too, when he asked him. This would explain why later on he also drops hints about the contract like Calcifer if you read carefully. It would also explain why Howl hid the boots (to stop Sophie leaving) and why he was being nice to her. Of course, other reasons for this change of heart and mentioned bellow...

My other guess is that he had some ideas since he made green slime, though I'm not sure.

Q. How did Calcifer come to be in the grate?

Seven years before the story starts Howl caught Calcifer on the Porthaven Marshes, where stars fall. He chased him in seven-league boots. Calcifer didn't want to die and Howl felt sorry for him. As part of the contract, Calcifer took Howl's heart. He's in the grate because part of the contact is that Calcifer must stay in that one place and can only be removed by Howl in a special way by using a spell.

Q. What are the hints that Calcifer gives to Sophie?

Calcifer’s hints:

  • (A line that is always being repeated) "Howl is pretty heartless you know"
  • (Sophie heart hurts and says Calcifer won't understand cause he hasn't) "Yes I do!" 
  • (To Howl when Michael says he tried to catch a star) "You caught one yourself didn’t you?"
  • (After Howl says the witch has caught up with him) "I felt it take"
  • (To Sophie while they’re talking) "I’m scared too, I will suffer, if Howl does"
  • (After Sophie asks if Calcifer if he was a falling star) "I suggested a contract on the spot, neither of us knew what we where getting into".

Q. Sophie’s magic is to convince objects to do as she says she can make reality do what she wants. What spells does she cast?

  • "You’re a young as a spring leaf," Sophie says. Mayor’s wife buys the hat and looks like a schoolgirl.
  • "You have a heart of gold and someone in a high position will fall in love with you," Sophie says. Jane Farrier buys the hat and runs off with the Count of Catterack.
  • "You’re going to have to marry money," Sophie says. Fanny wears that hat and she married Mr. Smith, a very rich man.
  • She talks life into the scarecrow.
  • She talks life into her stick.
  • She talks life into the human skull on the bench.
  • She charms Howl’s grey and scarlet into making girls fall in love with him.
  • She convinces her stick to beat Miss Angorian.
  • Her anger causes water to turn into weed-killer.

Q. What does Howl mean when he says "I thought you liked being in disguise... It must be since you're doing it yourself. What a strange family you are; is your name Lettie too?"

Sophie believes that if she's an old woman, she is safe from Howl's advances. The reference to Lettie thing is a joke about her two sisters pretending to be each other.

Q. When Percival spills out about why he'd come to Sophie, he said that Lettie was worried because... 'Sophie will think she's safe from Howl'. Lettie knows that Howl isn't dangerous... What does she mean?

Sophie is convinced that the Witch made her a real old woman but still only an eighteen-year-old girl and has the same feelings of any other teenager/young adult. Lettie isn't worried that Howl will hurt Sophie physically; she's scared that Howl will make Sophie fall in love with him.

Q. Percival says, 'He arrived far too late'... Howl hasn't hurt Sophie, nor would he. What does he mean?

He means that Sophie has fallen in love with Howl. Although she won't admit it.

Q. Sophie keeps getting charmed by the unknown black suit. It should be the gray and scarlet one, (the one she put the spell on); but when Howl finally shows her which one it is, it's the blue and silver one. Why was Sophie charmed?

The suits have nothing to do with it. Sophie is genuinely in love with Howl.

Q. Why did the Witch curse Howl?

Howl courted the Witch because he felt sorry for her but, upon realising she was a bunny-boiler, he jiltered her. The Witch decided to curse Howl making it so that on the day he is ten thousand days old he must return to her as swear that he has not truly fallen in love. If he hasn't then she she cannot lay hand on his heart. If he has then she will use it against him. As a result Howl took to skirt chasing but run away as soon as the girl falls in love with him.

Q. I've seen in a couple of places that part of the curse on Howl was that when he really fell in love he would have to return to the witch. Was this actually part of the curse? If so, which part?

This is only one interpretation of the book and poem. There are several. I, however, argee the poem seems to suggest that Howl will return to the Witch when we falls in love. In the second stanza it reads:

Ride ten thousand days and nights,
Till age snow white hairs on thee,
Thou, when thou return'st, wilt tell me,
All strange wonders that befell thee,
            And swear,
            No where
Lives a woman true and fair.


Translated in terms of the book it means:

When you are ten thousand days old,
And have white hair,
You, when you return, will tell me,
Everything that happened to you,
            And swear,
            You haven't found,
A woman who you truly love.

The part that says "Thou, when thou return'st..." is the part that relates to Howl having to return to the Witch. And "...wilt tell me, All strange wonders that befell thee" can refer to the fact that the Witch would not be able to complete the rest of the curse if he did not.

The whole "And swear, No where, Lives a woman true and fair" relates to Howl's inability to find love. Basically if Howl could return to the Witch without being in love then she could not lay hands on his heart.

Q. Is there any significance to the third verse that Howl remarks reveals that the woman isn't true or fair after all?

Yes, please have a look at my analysis of it here.

Q. How long did Howl know Miss Angorian was the Witch's fire demon?

Probably as soon as he saw her.

Q. Then why did he go to see her in Wales?

Three things; to trick her and to keep an eye on her, and to make Sophie jealous. He knew making Sophie jealous was to assure that she would try and keep Angorian away from the castle. He may have also done it to see how Sophie reacted to him courting someone else.

Q. The Witch was in Wales trying to capture or hurt Howl’s sister and her children. But why did this happen?

Wales was the only entrance to the castle she knew about (Because the moving castle changed) and it was easy for her to get to because Miss Angorian lives there. Another reason is to distract Howl so he can’t stop Sophie leaving the castle, and subsequently getting kidnapped.

Q. The Witch tells Michael that she's kidnapped Miss Angorian; but Howl knows she's a fire demon. Why tell him that?

That wasn't for Howl's benefit; it was for Sophie's. By this time Sophie is believes that Howl loves Miss Angorian. But she's in love with Howl and doesn’t want him to get hurt. The Witch knows this because had Howl not been in love then her curse wouldn't be able to come true.

It's all just a big trick to get Sophie to come to the waste.

Q. But the Witch wants to catch Howl, doesn't she?

Yes, and Sophie is the bate.

Q. Then why not just kidnap Sophie?

In order to kidnap Sophie, the Witch would have had to enter the castle which she can’t do, or get Sophie to leave and grab her while she's outside the protection of the castle. Howl has made sure she wouldn't leave by inviting her family round. The Witch needed to get Sophie to leave while Howl couldn't stop her, so she distracted him by trying to capture Megan, Neil and Mari; and tricked Sophie into leaving by telling her that Howl would have to face the Witch if he wanted Miss Angorian back.

Q. The honest mind part of the curse revolves around him admitting that he's a coward, but he’s honest about Sophie too. The Witch says that 'Howl will have to be honest for once, now that [Sophie] is [With the Witch]'... what's he admitting to?

That he has found a woman true and fair. His choice is that he can either leave Sophie, and the curse doesn't come true but Sophie gets killed, or he goes to save her but in a way, sacrifices himself to do so. Howl chooses to save Sophie, admitting that her life means more to him than his own; so he's being honest.

Q. What does Howl mean by 'I think we ought to live happily ever after'?

He is mocking the fairytale drama that has appeared in the book. He's asking her to marry him. Howl is too much of a coward to actually whip out a ring, get down on one knee and ask her directly. The only way Howl can do things is to tell himself he's not doing it.

 


Castle in the Air

Q. Why didn't the genie realise that Midnight was Sophie and vice versa?

If Sophie knew that the genie was Howl then she would have told someone and if the genie knew Midnight was Sophie he would have told someone. The genie only realised who Midnight and Whippersnapper were when it was too late - after Sophie was changed back, thus, turning Whippersnapper back into Morgan.



House of Many Ways

Q. Howl's Moving Castle has a sequel Castle in the Air, is Diana Wynne Jones planning another book in the series?

Diana Wynne Jones has wanted to write one for ages and has said that she's had a few ideas about another story. It would supposedly follow Morgan (see book characters page), and some how, Dalzel's two daughters (born with very small wings) are tied into the rap. The only problem is that she doesn't know how to kick the story off or how it will go. All we can do is hope!

UPDATE: Good news everyone! DWJ is publishing a new book for the Castle series. It is expected to feature Howl in it. It will be called House of Many Ways.


 

Howl's Moving Castle (2004 film)

Q. How did Calcifer come to be in the grate?

When Howl was a child he caught a shooting star and agreed to enter a contract with him. Howl gave him his heart and the chance to live in return for Calcifer's demon powers. This means the two of them are bound together forever and as a result Calcifer cannot leave the moving castle. If he dies, so does Howl and vice versa.

Q. Who or what is the Witch of Waste?

See character profiles.

Q. Why does Sophie keep reverting back to a young girl at night?

She doesn't; it is how Howl sees her. The only times she changes back into a young girl without grey hair is when Howl looks at her as she sleep and when she's dreaming. Because he can see through powerful spells he can see her for what she actually is: a young girl. Also, it is the romantic image of the vain man who can see through the old woman and see the girl inside.

Q. What are all the little men made of light?

They're called "star children" and they are what shooting stars become before dying. They try to stay alive as long as they can, but when a star falls it is supposed to die and can only be saved if a living being catches it.

Q. Why does Sophie's hair colour remain grey at the end of the film?

Because it has been dyed the colour of star light by Calcifer who has just broken the contract. It is also a symbol that Sophie has changed since the beginning of the film.

Q. This movie never came to my area, why?

It was on limited releasing. In the UK it was only shown in selected cinemas. I can't speak intellegently of the US cinemas releases, but I know for a fact that in the UK it was only showing at most cinemas from 23rd September till the 8th October. I was lucky enough to see it at Bluewater shopping centre. The place was packed and I'm surprised it wasn't out longer. It would have made a lot of money.

‘Howl's Moving Castle’ 1986-2008, Diana Wynne Jones. 'Hauru no ugoku shiro' AKA 'Howl's Moving Castle' 2004-2008 Hayao Miyazaki, Ghibli Studios. Text/Website Sophie Withall, 2004-2008. Based upon Diana Wynne Jones' novel ‘Howl’s Moving Castle’ and Hayao Miyazaki and Studio Ghibli animated film 'Hauru no ugoku shiro'. Layout Tripod. All characters are entirely fictional. 

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