Let me first say that I absolutely love the film and the book, but if I had to choose I loved the book more. I will admit that I saw the movie first…and while I’m confessing sins…I saw it dubbed, so I’m more accustomed to Christian Bales, than I am to Takuya Kimura (but I will admit he was the sexier Howl :D) But I digress…there are several differences between the novel and the film…for one the film oozes all the classic Miyazaki tropes, which I will get into more later in the post…so here we go!
Witch of the Waste
So again…*disclaimer* I saw the movie first…
So in the beginning, both the book and the movie agree: The Witch of the Waste is the main antagonist, but really that’s kind of Howl’s fault. About a year before the story Howl (the serial philanderer) thinking she’s hot stuff, pursues her, but for some reason or another changes his mind and dumps her. This (rightly so) pisses the Witch off to the point where she makes it her mission to find Howl and make him her’s forever and always. And here my friends is where the similarities end! [SPOILERS AHEAD…no seriously…spoilers…like really real spoilers…]
Jilted and having more power than is good for her, the Witch puts a curse on Howl (who at this point has been hiding in plain sight for over a year) so that he will come to her so she can lop off his head for her creepy witchy Franken-Ken. So like any spurned ex she has been keeping tabs on his
hook ups activities and finds out that he is going after some girl named Lettie Hatter (younger sister of Sophie Hatter). So like any normal person would do in this situation, the Witch decides to pay Miss Hatter a visit and gently warn her to back up off her man, and to top it off this chick (Sophie) is selling bespelled hats, as if she’s a witch or something! Well the Witch has no idea what Lettie looks like, so when she enters the hat shop on that fateful evening she ends up confronting the wrong Hatter sister. She curses Sophie for being snarky (and for messing with her boo) and goes about her merry way, probably to get a celebratory ice cream or something. I almost forgot she is pissed at the King for banishing her to the Waste in the first place…so she threatens his daughter, dismembers the royal wizard of Ingary, Sulliman (then turns him into a scarecrow), dismembers the King’s brother (and then turns him into a dog)….and then she goes out for ice cream…
She spends the rest of the book biding her time, waiting for her curse to come to fruition, but that by no means that she isn’t out sniffing around Howl’s hidey hole. When Howl pays a visit to his old teacher Mrs. Pentstemmon, she isn’t far behind…again, she asks, nicely I might add, where Howl is hiding. And quite reasonably, when Mrs. Pentstemmon refuses to give him up, she kills her. Yes, the Witch of the Waste kills the woman like it was nothing and just leaves the house! She runs into Sophie, taunts her for a bit, and then casually brags about killing Pentstemmon!
Here’s how the whole scene played out:
“Why, it’s Miss Hatter!” the Witch said, laughing. “I never forget a face, particularly if I’ve made it myself! What are you doing here, dressed up all so fine? If you’re thinking of calling on that Mrs. Pentstemmon, you can save yourself the trouble. The old biddy’s dead.”
“Dead?” said Sophie. She had a silly impulse to add, but she was alive an hour ago! And she stopped herself, because death is like that: people are alive until they die.
“Yes. Dead,” said the Witch. “She refused to tell me where someone was that I want to find. She said, ‘Over my dead body!’ so I took her at her word.”
Then I imagine she goes off to get herself another ice cream…Another thing that the movie left out, was that the Witch also caught a shooting star and made a deal with a Fire Demon…except her Fire Demon, twisted by the darkness of her soul…and a bit power hungry…So it makes betrays the Witch and comes up with its own plan to steal Howl’s heart.
But I digress, in the book the Witch is a powerful sorceress, and actually gets to showcase her talents! She and Howl have two epic wizard battles!
The first is sparked when the Witch goes after Howl’s family in Wales, and ends only because Howl runs away like a scared little boy! The second occurs after she tricks Sophie into coming over to her fortress in the Waste, however, this was to be her last. Howl kills her…
Sure the Witch was pure evil…but to be honest, I felt bad for the old girl…She lost the love of her life, and when she tries to win him back she gets killed for her trouble…
In the film, Miyazaki, tones her evilness down considerably…she doesn’t kill anybody, she doesn’t have epic wizard battles…NO…She gets stripped of her powers and becomes one of the good guys…Do I sound bitter? That’s ‘cus I am!
Both the book and the movie keep Sophie’s personality relatively unchanged… She gets cursed by the Witch of the Waste, transforming from a girl into a gaunt old woman. To be honest the changes that the film made weren’t all that big, nor were they as drastic as the changes made to the Witch of the Waste or *shudder* Howl. Sophie manages to remain true in both mediums.
In the book, Sophie is the eldest of three sisters, and as such is living under the misguided belief that she will be the least successful because of this…And in the beginning it seems like that is exactly how it’s going to be… When her father dies suddenly, her stepmother, Fanny places the younger sisters in promising apprenticeships, while appointing Sophie heir to the family hat shop…Which to be honest isn’t so terrible…The author makes sure to let us know that Sophie is quite skilled at making clothes and that the shop is “well to do”, so it seems like the best fit… She even helps the shop by making amazing hats that everyone just has to have! Her
ancient chinese secret…she talks to them…and you know what? The things she says to them come true!
Feeling lonely, Sophie decides to visit her sister, but weeks of working in the shop making hats have made Sophie a little dull and skittish. So when a handsome stranger offers to buy her tea, she runs like a scared mouse, little does she know that this chance meeting is going to screw her over big time! She meets her sister, who is horrified to see how dull Sophie has become, I mean she spends the entire visit telling Sophie how sad she looks. Sophie, rightfully offended leaves, stumbling into her
unexpected second fateful encounter of the day.
Sophie’s magical hats have caught the attention of the Witch of the Waste, who threatened by the new witch butting in on her territory, curses her in a rather one-sided pissing contest (but we’ve already established that the Witch of the Waste is a badass). She turns Sophie into an old woman, and goes off to get the first of many celebratory ice cream cones.
Now here is where I was scratching my head in confusion…Instead of telling someone…anyone (I know she can’t say she’s under a spell, but come on she could at least let someone see her) about what happened, she decides to leave home at the ripe old age of 90, to seek her fortune…better late than never…I guess… She stumbles into Howl’s castle and into her journey of self discovery and….love?!?
Thus the adventures of old Sophie begin! Old Sophie is a badass in her own right. She barges into a wizard’s castle unannounced and makes a deal with a Fire Demon, all before breakfast. She sets herself up as Howl’s cleaning lady much to his amusement and annoyance in order to trick him into breaking her curse (which turns out to be self-fulfilling prophecy of sorts).
Old Sophie unintentionally makes Howl’s life a living hell, here are just a few of the things she does
- She messes with his stuff, while pretending to be his cleaning lady she mixes up his cosmetics (hilarity ensues )
- She actually calls Howl on his BS…and let’s remember that Howl is one of the most powerful wizards in the land!
- She goes out of her way to sabotage Howl’s dates, by spying on him and ruining his clothes (she actually cuts up one of his best suits)
- She goes toe to toe with the Witch of the Waste! She tells her off on numerous occasions and even barges into her house and demands that she return Howl’s main squeeze (yeah it was a trap, but still it was amazing)
In the end Sophie breaks her own curse and Howl’s contract with Calcifer without any real consequences. And did I mention she manages to get heartless Howl to fall in love with her to boot!
Movie Sophie is relatively the same save for there not being any mention of her being a witch, she doesn’t have two sisters she only has one, and a weird time travel sequence that actually brings the movie full circle if you happen to be paying close enough attention. Now I will say this the movie does do a better job of showing how it is Sophie who is really in control of the curse, but without knowing that she is a witch the constant young/old changes can be confusing.
Lastly, the movie changed Sophie’s hair color from red to brown, I guess to make her more of an “everyday” girl. For me the change was unnecessary, but hey who am I to question artistic license?
So this probably the reason for the entire post, again I feel I need to say this again:
I like the movie and the book!
Now that that’s out of the way Book Howl and Movie Howl are like those insurance commercials…”sort of you, isn’t you”.
Howl Jenkins Pendragon, is originally from Wales, while there he became interested in magic, even going so far as to write his dissertation on magic. Sometime after that he made his way to Ingary through a magic portal, setting himself up as a powerful wizard,, under the tutelage of Mrs. Pentstemmon. Some years later Howl made a deal with the dying fire demon, Calcifer, forfeiting his heart in exchange for more power. Because of this, Howl quits his apprenticeship, and becomes a womanizing lech. Howl spends his time wooing ladies until they fall in love with him after which he dumps them. His illicit activities spark rumors among the populous, many of which he spreads himself. Sometime before the book Howl courts the Witch of the Waste, but being the prick that he is, he dumps her after she falls for him. The Witch, rightfully angry, puts a curse on him in retaliation. But this does little to curb his womanizing ways, earning him the nickname heartless Howl.
On the surface, book Howl is a womanizing, narcissistic, coward with the temperament of a twelve year old. Sure he’s one of the most powerful, wizard in all of Ingary, but from the way Sophie tells it you’d never know it. In fact no one really knows anything about Howl, everything known about the wizard is told through hearsay and rumors. At the start of the book Sophie overhears a rumor that Howl is rumored to capture girls and eat their hearts, no reason is given for his cannibalistic persuasion, it’s just reported as fact. So rightfully so everyone is scared when his big hulking castle comes strolling by town for no particular reason. When we finally meet Howl on May Day, (not that we are aware it’s him at the time) he’s standing on a street corner trying to pick up girls. He hits on the unsuspecting Sophie Hatter, but frightened by the attention she blows him off.
It isn’t until several days later that Howl comes home to find an old woman cooking in his kitchen. Despite the desperate pleas of Calcifer and Michael and curious about her curse, Howl allows her to stay in the castle. From jump, Howl was aware of the curse on Sophie, but for some reason or another he feigns ignorance (probably just to mess with Sophie). Several times throughout the book he tries to secretly break the curse, but Sophie’s magic proves too powerful for even him.
In his spare time, Howl has been gathering clues about the disappearances of Wizard Sulliman and Prince Justin, all while dodging the Witches curse and the King’s summons. He spends a majority of the book working in the shadows, he gathers clues about the missing prince and tries to break Sophie’s curse all while dodging the Witch of the Waste and courting as many pretty girls as he can get his hands on. Sophie being the only woman, unimpressed by his skills.
While fickle and cowardly, Howl goes out of his way to be a decent human being. He charges his poorer clients less money than he does his wealthier clients, he even takes IOUs when clients can’t pay. But on the flip side he spends all the money he earns on clothes and makeup, so Michael has taken to hiding money from him. At one point in the story Michael remarks that Howl took all of their savings and bought a guitar and a skull, forcing them to eat nothing but seaweed. When Sophie mixes up the potions in the bathroom he throws a fit, almost destroying the castle in the process, but when Sophie gets captured by the Witch he neglects his daily grooming ritual to save her. When Sophie is feeling down, he secretly invites all of her family and friends to the castle to cheer her up, it’s really sweet actually. The movie really doesn’t do Howl justice.
Eventually Howl falls for Sophie and the pair decide to marry…the end.
So I will say this for the movie, it does a great job at showing Howl and Sophie falling in
like love, with the book everything just happens so abruptly. One minute they are fighting the next they are deciding to live happily ever after. Another change the movie made was to tone down Howl’s philandering ways, any courting Howl does is mentioned in passing, if that. Then there’s the whole war thing, I know it’s Miyazaki, and I know he hates war, but movie Howl just seems like a mouthpiece for anti-war propaganda.
Both are great, whether you watch the movie or read the book, you are sure to enjoy it.