I have a new favorite book. Or, shall I say, I have found a book that shall be added to my list of favorites, where it will join The Hobbit, Out of the Silent Planet, The Chronicles of Narnia, Dream Thief, and many others. It’s called Howl’s Moving Castle by Diana Wynne Jones.
With the signature charming writing style of many well-known British authors, Ms. Jones weaves a tale of falling stars, crippling curses, fatal flaws, paralyzing fears, and redeeming love. (Note: for this post I will be using gifs from the Hayao Miyazaki film of the same name. Doesn’t follow the book exactly, but still a great book-to-movie adaptation. Also, some spoilers to follow.)
Howl’s Moving Castle tells the story of the Wizard Howl–a charming, self-absorbed, womanizing fop of a man–through the eyes of Sophie Hatter, while giving her story as well. Sophie is the unlucky firstborn of three, and therefore doomed to fail in any attempts to make her fortune according to the folklore of Ingary, the land where she lives. Because of this, she refuses to try anything new, instead retreating into her trade, hat-trimming, in seclusion. However, a case of mistaken identity causes a powerful and vengeful witch to cast a curse on her, transforming her from a mousy (in her own opinion) 18-year-old girl into a 90-year-old woman. Although shocked by the change, Sophie finds that the anonymity of suddenly aging frees her from the preconceived notion that the eldest of three will always fail, and she gradually becomes less and less afraid of facing the world and trying new things.
In her travels, she seeks refuge in the moving castle of the Wizard Howl, who has quite the infamous reputation of wooing young girls, and then running away and breaking their hearts as soon as they profess their love for him. The two of them butt heads throughout most of the story, mostly because of Sophie’s cleaning habits in the castle and her curiosity into his mysterious past. She eventually learns of Howl’s curse placed upon him by the same witch who cursed Sophie. Through Calcifer, the sarcastic fire demon who provides most of the magical power in Howl’s castle, she also learns of the contract Calcifer and Howl made years ago, when Howl caught Calcifer as a falling star and saved him from dying.
Though it had seemed a good idea at the time, the contract now shows its darker side, and Sophie knows that she must find a way to break it, or else Howl and Calcifer will both die. Sophie eventually succeeds in breaking the contract, as well as aiding Howl in defeating the witch’s curse on both of them. At the end of the story, Howl tells her, “I think we should live happily ever after.”
To be perfectly honest, I still haven’t figured out exactly why I love this story so much. My INTJ brain is still picking apart and analyzing it. However, Howl’s Moving Castle definitely appeals to my inner INFPness in that it is a beautiful and unconventional beauty-and-the-beast-type love story. It also confirms my long-held opinion and theory that fear is the opposite of love, and that love is the only force that is capable of completely defeating fear. For instance, Sophie was so afraid of what others thought about her, and afraid of trying to succeed because she had always thought she was doomed to fail. It was only when she overcame this fear that she was able to understand and help Howl, who struggled with fears of his own.
Howl’s curse stated that once he finally fell in love, he would have to face the witch again (whom he had been avoiding for the past few years), hence the reason why he refused to become attached to any one woman and instead flitted from one to another (side note: just goes to show that people ALWAYS have reasons behind their actions, even if they don’t know the reason themselves). This fear ruled Howl’s life, until Sophie’s love for him and his mutual love for her gave him the courage to confront the witch and defeat her.
The conflict of fear vs. love can be seen throughout literature, even the Bible. II Timothy 1:7 says, “For God hath not given us the spirit of fear; but of power, and of love, and of a sound mind.” I John 4:18 says, “There is no fear in love, but perfect love casteth out fear: because fear hath torment. He that feareth is not made perfect in love.” The Bible states it best: fear constricts, love frees.