Howl’s Moving Castle is one of those Studio Ghibli films that have gained wide international recognition. As such, fans still have a lot of questions regarding this film. Most of them involved the ever handsome Howl, and the intriguing protagonist, Sophie Hatter.
Many fans wonder if Sophie is a witch all along. She was able to return Howl’s heart and break free from her own curse. Surely a normal person would not have been able to do that. But then again, Sophie’s undeterred determination to save Howl might have been the case.
In this article, we will give an answer based on the movie and on the book trilogy. The film is actually based on a fantasy novel written by Diana Wynne Jones with the same title. But the film has made a lot of changes, and Diana’s sequel books were not included: Castle in the Air and House of Many Ways.
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Film: Sophie Being Cursed
In the Studio Ghibli version, Sophie was seemingly a human woman when we first meet her. She works at a hat shop and seemed to be content in living normally. As a matter of fact, Sophie lives her life in the confines of her comfort zone. She does not socialize with a lot of people like her sister Lettie, nor does she attempt to try new things. She does not have a particular goal in life and just wanted to work on the family business.
With this kind of personality, she does not exhibit anything out of the ordinary.
She then encountered Howl, in which he rescued her from two soldiers trying to flirt with her. He pretended to be her boyfriend, and escorted Sophie home. It was with this interaction that the Wicked Witch of the West cursed Sophie out of jealousy. It is important to note that Howl is notorious for making women fall for him. So the witch did not curse Sophie necessarily because she sensed a fellow witch, but it is because of Howl.
At first, it seemed that Sophie had just encountered Howl by chance which led to her getting involved with witches and wizards. In an effort to end her curse, she then proceeded to seek shelter in Howl’s moving castle. She became the cleaning lady of the house. She does not use any extraordinary abilities while doing it.
Film: Sophie’s Changing Appearance
When she was an old woman, she was still able to revert back to her young appearance. These circumstances can be considered extraordinary. It seems like she can unconsciously change her appearance back to a young woman. But at the end of the day, her wrinkles will still return because the curse had not been broken.
Although, the metaphorical explanation might make more sense. Sophie reverts back to her younger self whenever she is firm and confident. Whenever she becomes brave and determined, she becomes young. This is what Sophie needs to be – the growth that she has to achieve. She should stop being a blank slate – a person not actively looking for a purpose in life. In other words, she should not be acting like an old woman just waiting for death.
When Sophie changed in the film, the curse was broken. She retained her gray hair, which can be symbolized by her wisdom and maturity. It was probably the plausible explanation for it, though having her own abilities can also be possible.
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Film: Saving Howl
Sophie managed to return Howl’s heart and break his contract with Calcifer. Calcifer was then set free. Interestingly, we can argue that Sophie had managed to travel back in time to see Howl making a deal with Calcifer. She shouted towards Howl to wait for her, and that she is going to save him.
This can be the most extraordinary thing she has done. She managed to step in Howl’s memory and make her presence known. This was evident when Howl turned to look at her direction. This is probably the reason why Howl told her in their first meeting: “I have been waiting for you.” It could mean that the two of them were truly destined for each other.
This was rooted from her deep love for Howl, and how she would go to lengths to save him. This explanation alone can answer how she was able to see the past Howl. At the same time, it can also be that she has abilities too.
In the Books: She Is a Witch
We are going to treat the Studio Ghibli film and the books as separate entities. This is because the film made several changes in the plot. The film also do not touch much on Sophie’s magical abilities, nor do they confirm she is a witch. They probably intentionally left Sophie’s true nature quite ambiguous, leaving the audience to freely interpret it. It is also possible that Sophie was characterized to lean more in being an ordinary girl, so that the audience will be able to connect with her.
In the books, it is entirely a different story. Sophie is actually a sorceress. This was made evident in the third installment of the book called House of Many Ways. She was asked to help solve a certain crime of missing treasures. At this point in time, it can be assumed that Sophie feels more at ease in using her powers. It was also stated that Sophie unconsciously reverts herself to her old appearance, because she preferred being old sometimes.
At the time of the first novel – where the Studio Ghibli film is based on, Sophie did not seem too confident to use her powers. She probably did not care much to acknowledge it until she was cursed.
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