Love without patience
The most important thing about this story, the plot makes no sense. I’ll write later about the characters–for now let’s try to figure out why this is so. Two stories have Howl at the center. Two women chase after him, the king’s witch & another witch. The one starts a war; the other steals Sophie’s youth. The youth-stealing witch is bewitched by young men, is herself an old woman. Probably, something similar can be said of the other one.
Both can tell: Sophie has fallen in love with Howl: That’s knowledge born of jealous love. Both drive Howl to his demonic madness, which might consume him, & which he thinks of as freedom or at any rate a fate preferable to the possessive wiles of the women. Howl at some point suggests the king’s witch protects his castle while the citizens are bombed. That magical defense resemble his own situation.
Howl is a pacifist. He hates the meaningless war–which combines the lack of claims to justice of WWI & the new destructive horrors wiping out cities of WWII–& knows that the witches who join the war completely lose their humanity. He himself is losing his humanity as he sabotages & eludes the flying war machines & weaponized witches.
Howl thinks freedom means escaping, not being trapped in a city. For a vain boy, he has learned about inconspicuousness. But the correlative to his making himself invisible or getting people to do what he tells them is a remarkable inclination to imitate domesticity while sowing disorder. His castle seems to be an image of soul. There is a boy who minds his business, likes to eat, & falls in love with Sophie; there is the fire-demon-heart that gets everything moving; then there is Howl, who seems to be in control, making decisions, giving orders, but hardly ever there, who apparently never eats, collects endless junk, & is gradually turning into a monster.
There’s no reason why the war’s infringing on Howl’s freedom & his falling in love with Sophie should coincide. Howl seems as irresponsible as the king, but his freedom leaves him unmoved to do evil deeds. Why is war affecting him? The story is dominated by people whose desires run away with them, which seems to be why nothing is properly planned & no trap well executed. There’s no reasoning in chaos: There’s impatient desire & a willful sense of entitlement.
What’s even stranger, concerning plot, is that Sophie’s selfish & unselfish unwillingness to make claims on Howl’s attention or powers drags him further into chaos. He also learns something about her: By night, her cursed old age disappears: She’s apparently ok living cursed. She’s too good to be true, in a sense, the mother he never had.
The weakest plot & possibly the best characterization of youthful inability to pull oneself together in a Ghibli picture