Howl’s Moving Castle Explained (Curse & Ending too) (2023)

If you’ve found this, you’ve probably just watched Howl’s Moving Castle and are thinking, “huh?”. Well fret not, friend, for I was also fairly confused the first time I watched what is now one of my favourite films. Here’s a run down of the plot, and perhaps a few things you may have missed that have left you confused.

Part 1: Sophie the Hatter

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The movie starts with Sophie creating beautiful hats quietly in her store while looking at Howl’s castle passing. She’s your average girl and doesn’t think much of herself (the scene of her trying her hat & cringing is honestly Me IRL). As the other ladies prepare to leave the store, one of them remarks that Howl once tore a woman’s heart out.

Sophie gets sick of working (same) and leaves to find her sister. As she moves around Town, we see that there is some sort of military celebration happening. She then gets hit on by 2 soldiers when bae appears.

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A very extravagant-looking Howl comments that he’s been looking for her (this is very important) and that she’s with him, so back off bitches. He offers to escort her to her destination, and this is where we learn he’s being followed for some reason.

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This is where we get the most iconic scene of the movie, no plot relevance but it establishes that Howl is the hottest Ghibli man. Everything about this scene is perfect, please take a moment to respect that.

Sophie finally meets her sister Lettie, the local hottie & we once again see that Sophie has low self esteem. She doesn’t even like making hats and just feels responsible for the shop as the oldest. Lettie informs her that the witch of the waste has also been out & about recently. We then see that the things following Howl came from a person being carried around in a palanquin (!!).

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Sophie returns to her shop & a mysterious, oddly terrifying woman appears. She turns out to be quite the bitch so Sophie tells her to get out. She reveals herself as the witch of the waste & we see the figures carrying her palanquin by the door. She curses Sophie & part of the curse is that she can’t reveal that she’s been cursed to anyone. But what’s the curse? SOPHIE’S OLD AF.

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The next day, Sophie’s mum comes to visit but Sophie isn’t at the shop. She pretends to be sick & here we really see that mentally, Sophie IS old. She says stuff like “it’s not easy being old” and “my clothes finally suit me”; we don’t condone hate of the chic grandma aesthetic in this household, Sophie. She then heads for the hills to find a way to break the curse. In town, there’s chatter of a war brewing.

(Video) The TRUE MEANING of Howl's Moving Castle

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While eating she finds a big ass stick which she thinks will make a good walking stick. As she pulls it out of the bush it’s stuck in we see that it’s actually a sentient scarecrow (because why not). Again, we are shown battleships signalling an impending war.

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The sentient scarecrow literally brings Sophie Howl’s Moving Castle as thanks when she asks him to find her somewhere to sleep, what a plot-driving king. During this whole process, we see Sophie’s acceptance of her being old.

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Also, could we take a moment to appreciate how much work it must have taken to animate this collosal mess Howl calls a castle. Sophie manages to hop on board & settles in next to a small fireplace.

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But it’s not just a flame at the fireplace, it’s a sentient flame that can tell Sophie’s under a curse, hmm. He calls himself the fire demon (awfully cute for a demon), Calcifer and offers Sophie a deal: break the spell that traps him in Howl’s castle & he’ll break the curse on her. But to do that, she has to figure out a secret contract Calcifer has with Howl, HMMM.

Part 2: War of Cleanliness

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The very next day, we are introduced to Howl’s apprentice, Markl. We also are introduced to a very important plot point: the door is actually a portal to 4 different spaces & the black one’s ‘Howl’s door‘. Authorities knock on the door to inform that Howl (and his various aliases) has to undergo mandatory conscription, orders from the big boss lady.

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BREAKFAST SCENE, love it. Howl returns from the black door & cooks breakfast, LOOK AT THOSE EGGS. Anyway, Howl can tell the witch of the waste has left a spell in Sophie’s pocket and it wouldn’t be unreasonable to assume he can tell Sophie’s under a spell as well. The spell says “He who catches a falling star, oh heartless man, your heart will be mine“.

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CLEANING SCENE, this scene is so satisfying. Anyways, while transferring Calcifer, we can see he has an oblong butt (core), yes this is important alright. Pay attention to the way it moves when Howl blows on it.

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Calcifer says if he dies, Howl dies. We also see that Sophie, who previously had trouble even walking, suddenly has no problem cleaning the whole house after getting riled up. Scarecrow also makes a return at this point and we see that the war has begun, and that Howl isn’t fighting on the same side as the rest of the Wizards. While sleeping, Sophie returns to her original form.

(Video) How Small Details Completely Change Howl’s Moving Castle (Studio Ghibli)

Part 3: Evading the Law

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Howl has a complete meltdown when Sophie mixes up his potions and spells, causing his hair to turn orange, ok drama queen. Sophie has an outburst and looks physically younger while crying, but soon realises Howl’s just throwing a tantrum. We see Howl’s obsession with pretty things and that he’s a bit of a hoarder.

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As with all meltdowns, there was something else bothering Howl – He’s been trying to evade the Queen (technically the King’s chief wizard, but imma call her queen), who has been chasing him for conscription, and the witch of the waste, whose heart he seems to have broken in the past.

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That’s when Howl gets the genius idea of sending Sophie to pretend to be his mum to decline the Queen in participating in the war, like that would make any difference.

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She meets a dog along the way, whom she mistakes for being Howl in disguise. The Queen also seems to have summoned the witch of the waste to participate in the war and the two comedically bicker up the stairs.

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Sophie is led to the Queen, who is revealed to be Howl’s teacher, while some sort of spell in performed on the witch of the waste. The Queen claims a demon stole Howl’s heart and that she can teach him to break the contract if he works for her. She reveals that she has removed all the witch of the waste’s powers and threatens to do the same for Howl if he doesn’t submit. It seems her care for him came at a price, she wants some investment returns.

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But Sophie realises that this would come at the cost of Howl’s freedom and would force him into committing war crimes. While defending Howl, Sophie turns back to her younger self in an honestly magical sequence. Whenever she gets passionate or is full of life, she always seems to turn time backwards.

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Howl shows up in the single stupidest disguise ever (as the King) and the Queen immediately sees through him. She begins the process of striping him of his powers but they manage to break free and escape, with Howl’s ring showing her the way to Calcifer.

When howl finally returns home from the fighting, Sophie’s her younger self again. She searches for him in his man cave & she confesses that she wants to break his spell because she loves him, but he remarks that she’s very late.

(Video) Howl's Moving Castle Makes So Much Sense

Part 4: Starlight

Sophie threatens to murder Calcifer but he refuses to reveal what Howl has given him, alright asshole. The next day, they have a bunch of fun eating & cleaning again, god I love this movie. Howl also reveals the scarecrow is under some sort of spell.

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Howl rebrands his castle to a much simpler, cleaner look and moves it to evade to queen to the spot where Sophie’s shop is! As the movie progresses we see how Howl changes from a superficial, pretty thing lover to someone who loves more deeply and values substance, cleverly illustrated through the design of the castle & his outfits. He then shows Sophie her present – he takes her to his secret, GORGEOUS garden where he used to spend his childhood running around. As she frolics about she turns young again but when her negative mentality sets in she reverts back to old age.

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When a battleship flies past them, Howl decides to mess with it, causing him to suffer from side effects. The two quickly run away and Sophie return home. Then, out of nowhere, Sophie’s mum finds her in their home and leaves a little purse as directed by the Queen (that bitch). The witch of the waste finds a magic slug in it and FEEDS IT TO CALCIFER (psycho lady, she’s the only character I still don’t quite like) reducing his powers and letting the magic through his protection.

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As the air raids bombard the town, Howl returns and restores the integrity of the castle and Calcifer. Sophie pleads with him to run away, but Howl refuses as he wants to protect the home they have (melting). In a bid to draw him away from the war and run from the Queen, Sophie removes Calcifer from the castle and it collapses.

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Having successfully lost the Queen, Sophie begs Calcifer to move the castle once more, but a weakened Calcifer requires her to give him something of hers in exchange for power. She gives him her hair and Calcifer goes wild. He says, “imagine what I could have done with your heart” and the damn old lady grabs Calcifer realising he has Howl’s heart.

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This, along with Sophie splashing water on him weakens Calcifer further and the remaining castle collapses entirely, sending Sophie falling. The ring that Howl gives her then leads her through the black castle door, and she arrives at Howl’s secret garden. She sees shooting stars falling and a young Howl – She’s travelled back to his childhood. Why? – Because that’s the door where Howl’s heart (mind/soul – both figurative and literal) lies. It’s Howl’s door, after all.

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We then see the deal made between Howl & Calcifer – he saved a dying star by giving it his heart. The ring breaks and she’s whisked away, but tells the two to wait for her in the future, saying she’ll come back for them.

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When she returns, she sees a dishevelled Howl, tired from war and barely keeping it together with his heart being severely weakened. She apologises for making him wait and asks that he take her to Calcifer.

(Video) Howl's Moving Castle - an Underrated Masterpiece

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Sophie asks Calcifer if returning Howl’s heart could possibly kill him, but Calcifer realises that they were fine even when Sophie poured water on him and that she could probably be the one to return his heart (perhaps as her ownership of his heart is unconditional 💖). She then says something that sounds a little like a spell that wishes both Howl and Calcifer long lives as she returns his heart.

The contract breaks and as they fall, are saved by the scarecrow for a last time. Sophie kisses him as thanks and that breaks his spell too! He is revealed to be the Prince of the neighbouring country and promises to end the war. Calcifer and Howl are both finally free and they all live happily ever after as one big family.

How fitting that in a movie all about giving and taking hearts, pure selfless love is what sets everyone free.

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So what was Sophie’s curse, anyway?

Throughout the movie, we see that her physical appearance changes with her mental state. When she’s full of life, happy or passionate, she reverts to her younger self. But when negativity consumes her, she speaks badly of herself to others or thinks of herself as being unworthy, she appears older. While up to interpretation, I feel that her curse was that her physical appearance reflect her mental state. As the movie progresses, she learns to be kind to herself, as she is to others and not talk down to herself. She too, is worthy of love and happiness. When she finally gains real confidence in herself, remains as her young self from that point forth.

I really love Howl’s Moving Castle, and as with all Ghibli movies, implore you to re-watch this movie if you haven’t. All Ghibli movies, and especially this one get better on re-watches, trust me.

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(Video) HOW HOWL WAS SUPPOSED TO LOOK... [book versus movie: Howl's Moving Castle]


What happened to Sophie's curse in Howl's Moving Castle? ›

Sophie manages to break the contract between Calcifer and Howl, and returns Howl's heart to him. Sophie defeats Miss Angorian, breaking her own curse, and freeing both Wizard Suliman and Prince Justin.

What happens at the end of the book Howl's Moving Castle? ›

The last chapter of Howl's Moving Castle is action-packed, what with the destruction of both the Witch of the Waste and Miss Angorian, and the reversal of Sophie's curse. Of course, since this is a fairytale it makes sense that the evil witch and her fire demon go down.

What is the message behind howls moving castle? ›

Hayao Miyazaki's Howl's Moving Castle (2004) traverses several themes — humanity, selfhood, compassion and belonging. However, the film derives its most enduring message from its ideas of war and its evils. Miyazaki identifies as a pacifist.

Did Howl know Sophie was cursed? ›

In the novel, it is ultimately revealed that Howl could see through Sophie's curse all along. He always knew she was really eighteen.

Did Howl and Sophie had a child? ›

Morgan is the son of Howl Jenkins Pendragon and Sophie Hatter. He appears in Castle in the Air and House of Many Ways.

Who was the girl that broke Howl's heart? ›

In the magical land of Ingary, by contrast, Howl's main trouble living without a heart is that he loses some essence of his soul, which he gets back when Sophie breaks his contract with Calcifer.

Why was Howl cursed? ›

He tells Calcifer to save himself because the djinn is too strong for either of them. Howl is still in the Castle when the djinn comes, and Howl is turned into a genie by the djinn. Howl is cursed so that he is unable to tell anyone that he is under a spell and no one is able to recognise him.

Is Howl in love with Lettie? ›

Michael returns in the evening, thrilled to announce that the girl Howl is in love with is not his Lettie, who works at the bakery. Sophie realizes that Michael is actually in love with Martha, and the real Lettie must be warned not to give in to Howl's attentions.

Who was Howl's ex girlfriend? ›

Witch of the Waste. As the jealous ex-girlfriend of Howl, this witch is the initial antagonist before Madame Suliman and is the woman who not only curses Sophie but Howl as well.

Why did Howl let Sophie stay? ›

TLDR: Howl hid his strong feelings (and the things he did) for Sophie so that she wouldn't confess her feelings towards him, that would trigger the curse and he would lose all romantic feelings for Sophie.

Why was the Witch of the Waste obsessed with Howl? ›

The Witch is jealous because Howl has a reputation for being a lady-killer. She knows that he doesn't love her back, but she wants his heart anyway. Her need is gluttonous, but not in a literal sense; her desire is a destructive, ravenous force.

Why did Howl's hair turn black? ›

Thanks to Sophie's cleaning, Howl's potions got mixed around, leading his hair to change from blond to ginger. Howl accuses Sophie of ruining him and proceeds to throw a tantrum as his hair changes to black.

Why did Howl turn green? ›

The character of Howl is a talented, but quite vain, wizard. In one scene Sophie (who's under a spell that makes her look like an old woman) has accidentally rearranged Howl's potions in his bathroom, and his hair ends up dyed the wrong color.

Why did Calcifer let Sophie in? ›

He allows Sophie to enter the castle because he can sense her ability to talk life into things, which makes her a perfect person to lift the contract between himself and Howl.

What powers did Howl have? ›

  • Full Name. Howl Jenkins Pendragon.
  • Alias. Howell Jenkins. Master Howl. ...
  • Origin. Howl's Moving Castle.
  • Occupation. Wizard.
  • Powers/Skills. Sorcery. Shapeshifting. ...
  • Hobby. Being with Sophie. Helping others.
  • Goals. To recover his heart (succeeded). To protect Sophie and his family (succeeded). ...
  • Family. Sophie Hatter (wife)

Is Markl Howl's son? ›

Markl is Howl's apprentice in the movie. Not much of his background or past is revealed, except for his first name and that he is training under Howl to become a wizard. He manages Howl's affairs while he is away, dealing with customers in the different towns linked to by the portal.

What is Howl's real name? ›

He is known by a number of aliases; by birth, he is Howell Jenkins, but he goes by "Wizard Jenkin" in Porthaven and his preferred "Howl Pendragon" in Kingsbury.

How did Howl fall in love with Sophie in the book? ›

Howl, who is so vain, falls in love with Sophie knowing that she is under a curse and that he can't know her real face for sure until she's disenchanted (though he has a pretty good guess that, under the seventy extra years, she's the shy girl whom he met during May Day).

Who is the villain of Howl's Moving Castle? ›

We don't see Miss Angorian as a villain for most of the novel (though she does come across as kind of suspicious what with her sudden appearances in the moving castle and her unexpected recognition of a magic spell as an alleged high school English teacher from our world).

What is the age difference between Howl and Sophie? ›

At present there is about a seventy-year age difference between Howl and Sophie, but be that as it may, they squabble like an old married couple. Howl can't resist the opportunity to tease her, and Sophie is always ready to give it right back to Howl.

Who cursed the prince in Howl's Moving Castle? ›

A djinn, who is later revealed to be Hasruel, appears before him, and declares that because Ingary won the war against Strangia because of unfair use of magic, he has kidnapped the Princess Beatrice, and curses Prince Justin, taking away his memories and making him believe he is a Strangian soldier.

What is Howl disguised as? ›

This is when Howl comes into the palace, disguised as the King.

Who was Howl in love with before Sophie? ›

At first Sophie believes that Howl is pursuing Lettie for her beauty—and Howl obviously reinforces this idea by going on about his "Lovely, lovely Lettie Hatter" (6.99). But we find out later that both Howl and Lettie have their own motives for spending time together: Mrs.

Is Turnip Head sophies true love? ›

After Turnip Head is turned back into a prince, he reveals that Sophie is his true love.

Did Howl flirt with lettie? ›

The grudge of a jilted lover results in mistaking Sophie for her sister, Lettie, who she had seen Howl flirting with (Howl never seems to learn). After cursing Sophie, she disappears, stoking her grudge against Howl in the background.

Why did Howl give calcifer his heart? ›

The curse on Howl that's draining him of his humanity is that he gave Calcifer his heart so that Calcifer wouldn't die. It made Howl much more powerful, but it also was slowly turning Howl less human and more beastlike. He'd eventually become someone like the Witch of the Waste.

Why is Howl so obsessed with beauty? ›

Howl's self-obsession, however, isn't simply vanity: it's self-protection. The more beautiful he is, the safer he is, the further he is from those monsters of war. Howl's narcissism is his armor. Sophie's presence begins to soften Howl.

Did Howl love the Witch of the Waste? ›

Whereas Howl loves Sophie when she appears older but is actually very young, Howl does not love the Witch of the Waste when she appears young but is actually much older. Fans may not have noticed that these two characters are actually mirrored images of each other, and they have a lot in common.

What did Suliman want Howl? ›

Suliman admitted Howl was a gifted student and hoped that one day he would replace her. But he never finished his training as his heart was consumed by Calcifer. She starts recruiting wizards and witches for the King to fight the war that was taking place due to the prince of the neighboring kingdom gone missing.

What is howls true form? ›

Howl uses Calcifer's magic to transform into a monstrous bird-creature, but each time he does so, he loses a bit of his humanity, and shifting back into human form becomes harder.

Why does Howl fill the castle with green slime? ›

Sophie is mystified by the castle and the magic, but when Howl returns, he is angry at Sophie for barging into his castle and organizing his belongings. Howl is so mad that he uses his magic to create green slime, mess up the house, and enrage Sophie and Michael.

Is there a part 2 of Howl's Moving Castle? ›

Castle in the Air is the sequel to the novel Howl's Moving Castle, written by Diana Wynne Jones and published in 1990. It is the second book in the Castle Series.

Is Calcifer a boy or girl? ›

Calcifer is a boy's name of Japanese origin.

Was Howl in love with Lettie? ›

Michael returns in the evening, thrilled to announce that the girl Howl is in love with is not his Lettie, who works at the bakery. Sophie realizes that Michael is actually in love with Martha, and the real Lettie must be warned not to give in to Howl's attentions.

Why did Howl turn into a monster? ›

Howl uses Calcifer's magic to transform into a monstrous bird-creature, but each time he does so, he loses a bit of his humanity, and shifting back into human form becomes harder.

What is Howl's demon? ›

Calcifer is Howl's resident fire demon. As the result of a mysterious bargain with Howl some years ago he agrees to heat and power the castle. Although he is bound to the hearth, he has a great amount of magic.

Does Howl love Sophie in the book? ›

Howl, who is so vain, falls in love with Sophie knowing that she is under a curse and that he can't know her real face for sure until she's disenchanted (though he has a pretty good guess that, under the seventy extra years, she's the shy girl whom he met during May Day).

Who cursed Turnip Head? ›

Turnip-Head is a cursed scarecrow who appears in both the book and movie versions of Howl's Moving Castle. In both appearances, he is a scarecrow on two cross poles wearing torn clothing with a withering turnip for a head.
Turnip Head
Voiced ByCrispin Freeman
Title/JobScarecrow, Prince
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