Howl’s Moving Castle Summary

Diana Wynne Jones

Howl’s Moving Castle

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Howl’s Moving Castle Summary

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Howl’s Moving Castle, a novel by Diana Wynne Jones published in 1986, is a fantasy story, and the first in a series of novels about a powerful wizard, Howl. It is the story of a woman, a wizard, and a series of curses that must be solved.

In the book, Sophie is the oldest of three sisters. She lives in Market Chipping in the fantasy kingdom of Ingary. In this place, it is believed that the eldest will never be successful, and so she has resigned herself to this fact. She works selling hats at a shop every day and makes the most beautiful dresses.

One day, a witch comes into the shop looking for her younger sister. She believes that Sophie is that sister, and when Sophie will not tell her how to find a wizard named Howl, the Witch of the Waste turns her into a crone. She cannot work at the shop anymore, so she leaves and finds work with Howl as a cleaning lady.

She meets Howl’s fire demon, Calcifer, and he agrees to change Sophie back if she can find a way to break the contract between him and Howl. Part of the contract is that neither Howl nor Calcifer can disclose the details, so Sophie must guess what will break the contract.

Howl has a reputation for eating the hearts of young women and other terrible acts, but really, he spreads these lies so he will not have to do any work and everyone will leave him alone. His castle door is a portal and opens in four different places, one of which happens to be Sophie’s hometown. Howl soon realizes that Sophie is under a curse and attempts to break it, but he is unsuccessful.

His apprentice, Michael Fischer keeps all the day-to-day details running. Howl spends hours each day in the bathroom, and Michael tells Sophie that the day he does not make himself beautiful for a girl is the day he is in love. Together, Howl and Michael court Sophie’s younger sisters, Martha and Lettie.

Prince Justin and the Wizard Suliman go missing. The King orders Howl to find them both, a task he is unwilling to do. The King also wishes for him to kill the Witch of the Waste. However, she is a jilted lover and has placed a dark curse on him. Howl sends Sophie to get him out of the job, but she inadvertently gets him appointed Royal Wizard, a job he had been skirting for years.

Sophie believes the Witch has taken Howl’s current love interest, Lily Angorian, captive, but when she attempts to save her, she discovers it is a trap. Howl comes to save her; he is disheveled with his hair in a mess. This proves that he loves Sophie. Lily is actually the Witch’s fire demon in disguise. The fire demon, which Howl knew had taken control of the witch long ago, now tries to take Howl’s heart.

He defeats the demon temporarily, but ultimately the demon wrests control of Calcifer away. Calcifer had been guarding Howl’s heart all along. Sophie uses her ability to bring things to life to break the contract safely without killing them, and with the death of the Witch of the Waste, Howl is saved. Calcifer is then able to break the spell returning Sophie to her proper age.

When he awakens, Howl destroys the fire demon once and for all, and breaks the curse put on Prince Justin and Wizard Suliman. The witch had combined them into a perfect human to use to control Ingary. She had intended to use Howl’s head to complete her project.

In the end, Michael and Martha are in love, as are Wizard Suliman and Lettie. Howl and Sophie admit they love each other, and Howl seems willing to love happily after. Sophie does not disagree.

Howl believes himself to be so powerful that nothing can stand in his way. If he wants something, he is well within his power to have it. Sophie, on the other hand, believes strongly in fate. As the eldest, she believes the old ideas that the eldest will never be successful then, she subconsciously sabotages everything in her life to fit this trope. It is only at the end that she is able to overcome this idea.

Appearances are also a concern for all the characters. Appearances are not always true. Sophie is a young woman cursed to live in a crone’s body. She is comfortable with this look because it protects her from having to think too much about her future. Martha disguises herself as Lettie and uses that disguise as a way to find a real suitor. Howl spends hours making himself beautiful, but only when he is willing to let go of his appearance do we find out that he is truly in love.

Howl’s Moving Castle is a fantasy story that deals with issues of identity and fate. It is a wonderful story about the ways that outward appearances can be deceiving, how we can overcome our own perceptions of what we can do—even an ordinary person can save a powerful wizard if she is in love.