Based on Diana Wynne Jones’s novel of the same title, Howl’s Castle is a visually stunning movie by Hayao Miyazaki, the director of My Friend Totoro, Kiki Delivery Service and the Academy Award Winner Spirited Away, among others.

Both in the book and in the movie, Sophie, a 17 year old milliner, is turned into a 90 year old woman by the wicked witch of the Waste. The girl has no idea why. She doesn’t know that, by talking to the hats she makes, she bewitches them to do what she suggests. In fact, Sophie’s magic is quite powerful and the witch is jealous.

(“You are plain,” she tells a plain hat in the book, “you’ll have to marry money.” And so it is that the lady who buys it marries a rich man.)

Certain that her shallow stepmother won’t understand what has happened to her, Sophie leaves her house in search of a wizard who could break her spell.

In her journey, she meets an enchanted scarecrow that takes her to a moving castle powered by Calcifer, a fire demon. Calcifer is bound to the castle by a contract he made with the wizard Howl. Calcifer offers Sophie his help: if she breaks his magical contract with Howl, he will undo hers. But breaking the enchantment is not that easy, as neither Calcifer nor Sophie can talk about their own spells. So Sophie stays in the castle with Calcifer, Howl and his assistant Markl while she tries to learn the nature of their contract.

From here, movie and book differ, yet they keep the same mood, the same sense of wonder as the events unfold, unpredictable and illogical, to a satisfying ending.

As a girl, Sophie was insecure and self-effacing. As an old woman, she is wonderfully cranky, while Howl, a vain, heartless young man is both irresistible and obnoxious, endearing and outrageous. Their interaction is magical.

I saw the movie first, and I liked it so much that I rushed to the library to get the book, which I liked even more. So, I went back to get the two sequels (Castle in the Air and The House of Many Ways). Both books are great on their own. But they are not really sequels as Sophie and Howl are only secondary characters in them. Yet, they are so fully developed, they feel like old friends.

You can get a taste of the movie by clicking here to watch the trailer.