Why Was Howl Cursed?

by Hazel

Hayao Miyazaki’s Howl’s Moving Castle, adapted from Diana Wynne Jones’ novel of the same name, is a beloved animated film that captivates audiences with its enchanting world, memorable characters, and intricate storyline. One of the central mysteries of the film revolves around the enigmatic character Howl and the curse that plagues him. This article delves into the reasons why Howl was curse, exploring its origins, implications, and how it influences the narrative and character development within the story.

The Origins of Howl’s Curse

1. Howl’s Early Life and Ambitions

Howl Jenkins Pendragon, a powerful and charismatic wizard, is known for his striking appearance and mysterious nature. In the film, Howl’s curse is intricately tied to his past and his ambitious pursuit of magical power. As a young wizard, Howl’s fascination with magic led him to make a fateful pact with a fallen star, Calcifer. This pact granted Howl immense power but at a significant cost.


2. The Pact with Calcifer

In a critical flashback, viewers learn that Howl saved a falling star, Calcifer, from dying. In return, Calcifer became Howl’s fire demon, fueling his magic and granting him extraordinary abilities. However, this bond came with a hidden price. Howl’s heart was literally given to Calcifer, binding their fates together. This exchange is central to the curse that haunts Howl throughout the story.


The Nature of Howl’s Curse

1. The Transformation

One of the most evident manifestations of Howl’s curse is his ability to transform into a monstrous bird-like creature. This transformation occurs whenever Howl uses his magic extensively or engages in combat. Each transformation takes a toll on Howl, making it increasingly difficult for him to return to his human form. The curse thus acts as a physical and psychological burden, symbolizing the consequences of his pact with Calcifer.


2. The Heartless Wizard

The literal loss of Howl’s heart to Calcifer has profound symbolic implications. It renders Howl emotionally distant and seemingly indifferent to the world around him. This detachment manifests in his initial reluctance to commit to anything or anyone, fearing vulnerability and emotional pain. The curse of being heartless is a double-edged sword, granting him power while isolating him from genuine human connections.


3. The Threat of Losing Humanity

The curse also poses a significant threat to Howl’s humanity. Each time he transforms into the bird-like creature, he risks losing himself entirely to the monstrous form. This struggle is evident in the film, where Howl battles to retain his human essence amidst the overwhelming power of the curse. It is a constant reminder of the precarious balance he must maintain between his magical prowess and his human identity.

The Role of the Witch of the Waste

1. The Witch’s Obsession with Howl

The Witch of the Waste plays a pivotal role in exacerbating Howl’s curse. Her obsession with Howl stems from his magical abilities and charm, leading her to cast a spell on him to claim his heart for herself. This additional layer of the curse intensifies Howl’s predicament, as he must navigate the dangers posed by the Witch while grappling with his existing curse.

2. The Encounter at the Castle

When Sophie, the film’s protagonist, encounters the Witch of the Waste, it becomes clear that the Witch’s curse on Howl is driven by envy and a desire for power. The Witch’s actions serve to highlight the complexity of Howl’s curse, as it is not solely a result of his pact with Calcifer but also influenced by external malevolent forces. The Witch’s curse thus adds another dimension to Howl’s struggle, making his journey toward freedom even more challenging.

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Sophie’s Role in Breaking the Curse

1. Sophie’s Curse and Empathy

Sophie, cursed by the Witch of the Waste to become an old woman, brings a unique perspective to Howl’s plight. Her curse transforms her outward appearance but also catalyzes her inner strength and empathy. Sophie’s understanding of her own curse allows her to empathize with Howl’s suffering, forming a deep connection between them. Her presence becomes instrumental in Howl’s journey to break free from his curse.

2. Unveiling the True Nature of the Curse

Sophie’s interactions with Howl and Calcifer gradually reveal the true nature of Howl’s curse. Her genuine concern and determination to help Howl lead her to discover the bond between Howl and Calcifer. Sophie’s persistence in unraveling the mystery of Howl’s heart and her unwavering support become crucial in understanding the intricacies of the curse and finding a way to break it.

3. The Power of Love and Sacrifice

The resolution of Howl’s curse is deeply intertwined with themes of love and sacrifice. Sophie’s love for Howl and her willingness to risk everything to save him play a pivotal role in breaking the curse. When Sophie confronts Calcifer and learns about the heart, she realizes that the key to freeing Howl lies in returning his heart to him. Her selfless actions, driven by love and compassion, ultimately restore Howl’s heart and humanity.

Thematic Implications of Howl’s Curse

1. The Consequences of Ambition

Howl’s curse serves as a cautionary tale about the consequences of unchecked ambition. His desire for power and willingness to make a pact with Calcifer highlight the risks associated with pursuing greatness without considering the costs. The curse embodies the idea that power comes with responsibility and that the pursuit of ambition must be tempered with wisdom and foresight.

2. The Importance of Human Connection

The curse also underscores the significance of human connection and emotional vulnerability. Howl’s initial detachment and fear of intimacy are direct results of his heartless state. Sophie’s influence and the bonds he forms with her and other characters emphasize the healing power of relationships. The resolution of the curse reinforces the idea that true strength lies in embracing vulnerability and forming meaningful connections.

3. Transformation and Redemption

Howl’s journey is one of transformation and redemption. His struggle to reclaim his heart and humanity mirrors his internal growth and self-discovery. The curse acts as a catalyst for his character development, pushing him to confront his fears and flaws. Howl’s eventual redemption, facilitated by Sophie’s love and sacrifice, highlights the transformative power of compassion and the potential for personal growth.

The Symbolism of the Moving Castle

1. The Castle as a Reflection of Howl

Howl’s Moving Castle itself serves as a symbolic representation of Howl’s state of mind and the complexity of his curse. The ever-changing, chaotic nature of the castle mirrors Howl’s own inner turmoil and the fragmented aspects of his personality. The castle’s mobility and ability to transform reflect Howl’s desire to escape from his past and his fears, constantly moving to avoid confrontation.

2. The Castle’s Role in the Narrative

The castle is not just a physical structure but a dynamic entity that evolves alongside Howl’s character. As Sophie brings order and warmth to the castle, it begins to reflect the healing process occurring within Howl. The castle’s eventual stabilization and transformation into a more cohesive home symbolize Howl’s journey towards wholeness and the breaking of his curse.


Howl’s curse in Howl’s Moving Castle is a multifaceted and deeply symbolic element that drives the narrative and character development. Originating from a fateful pact with Calcifer and exacerbated by the Witch of the Waste’s malevolence, the curse manifests in physical transformations, emotional detachment, and the threat of losing humanity. Sophie’s role in understanding and breaking the curse highlights themes of love, sacrifice, and the importance of human connection. Ultimately, Howl’s journey from a cursed wizard to a redeemed and whole individual underscores the transformative power of compassion and the potential for personal growth. The film’s intricate exploration of Howl’s curse enriches the story, making Howl’s Moving Castle a timeless and compelling tale of redemption and the human spirit.


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